As it happenedended1576722505

Trump impeachment: House impeaches president in historic vote along party lines

Follow the latest updates, as it happened

Nancy Pelosi opens impeachment debate

After roughly eight hours of debate, the House of Representatives gathered to vote and ultimately charged him with abusing the power of his office by attempting to extort a political favour from Ukraine. The House then voted on a second article of impeachment, approving formal charges that Mr Trump had obstructed Congress during the subsequent congressional investigation into his conduct.

The Senate will now take up the approved impeachment articles in the new year.

Defiant as ever, Mr Trump walked onstage at a rally in Michigan just as the House began voting — and was bragging about his Space Force and mocking stock market jitters as the first article of impeachement was approved. Before it became official, as the vote crept towards approving the first article of impeachment, Mr Trump was interrupted by a protester, who he suggested was treated too well by security forces — and that they should have been tougher on her.

Before the vote and rally, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius described a letter sent by Mr Trump to House speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday as “the most unpresidential presidential document ever written” on MSNBC’s Morning Joe after rallies backing the impeachment process were held in cities across the country on Tuesday evening.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 08:45
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House to vote on impeachment of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is set to become the third president in American history to be impeached on Wednesday when the House of Representatives gathers to vote on whether he abused the power of his office by attempting to extort a political favour from Ukraine and then obstructed the subsequent congressional investigation into his conduct.

The debate is due to begin at 9am EST (2pm GMT) after which votes will then be held and the outcome - pretty much assured - will leave a defining stain on the president's tenure at the White House. According to tallies compiled by the Associated Press and The Washington Post, Trump is on track to be formally charged by a house majority.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to colleagues yesterday remarking: "Very sadly, the facts have made clear that the president abused his power for his own personal, political benefit and that he obstructed congress. In America, no-one is above the law. During this very prayerful moment in our nation's history, we must honour our oath to support and defend our constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The rare undertaking to impeach a president, set to unfold over more than six hours of heated debate on Wednesday, is splitting Congress much as the country at large harbours differing views on Trump's unusual presidency.

The president continues to implores the electorate to "read the transcript" but the facts of his 25 July phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky are not necessarily in dispute. The American leader is heard to ask Zelensky to investigate Democrats and his 2020 political rival Joe Biden. At the time, his newly-elected Ukrainian counterpart was hoping for a coveted White House visit to showcase his standing with the US, his country's most important ally. He was also counting on nearly $391m (£302m) in military aid as his country confronts a hostile neighbour, Russia.

The question for members of Congress - and Americans - is whether those actions and the White House's block on officials testifying for the house investigation, are impeachable offences.

The House impeachment resolution offers little room for doubt, saying Trump's actions were like "no other" president in history. He "betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections", it says.

"President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the constitution if allowed to remain in office."

Ahead of House votes, one by one, centrist Democratic members of congress, including many first-term freshmen who built the House majority and could risk their re-election in districts where the president is popular, announced they would vote to impeach. While Republicans disagreed, firmly.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell set the partisan tone for the next step, as attention will shift to the senate which, under the US constitution, is required to hold a trial on the charges. That trial is expected to begin in January. "I'm not an impartial juror," McConnell declared. The Republican-majority chamber is all but sure to acquit the president.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 09:00
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President writes letter to Pelosi attacking Democrats

Defiant as ever, Trump insists he has done nothing wrong and that the process is a partisan "witch hunt" against him, writing a six-page letter to Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday accusing House Democrats of "declaring open war on American democracy".

"I write to express my strongest and most powerful protest against the partisan impeachment crusade being pursued by the Democrats in the House of Representatives," Trump wrote.

"This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat lawmakers, unequalled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history."

Shortly after dispatching it, Trump spoke to reporters at the White House, the president hit out at the impeachment process, terming it a "sham" and saying he took "zero" responsibility for his current predicament. 

Andrews Buncombe and Feinberg have more.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 09:15
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Impeachment Eve anti-Trump rallies held across United States

Rallies backing the impeachment process were seen in cities across the United States last night, from Times Square in New York to Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

(Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty)

(Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

(Philip Pacheco/AFP)

(Philip Pacheco/AFP)

(Philip Pacheco/AFP)

(Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News/AP)

(Damian Dovarganes/AP)

(Philip Pacheco/AFP)

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 09:30
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Administration 'unceremoniously' recalls US diplomat Bill Taylor from Ukraine after speaking out against Trump before inquiry

Before the House Democrats and Republicans have even cast their votes, the president is already enacting vengeance on those he believes betrayed him.

Bill Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, has been recalled to Washington, just as Marie Yovanovitch was before him, after testifying before the impeachment inquiry last month that he felt it had been "crazy" to withhold the money from Kiev.

"I am extremely concerned that this suspect decision furthers the president’s inappropriate and unacceptable linking of US policy to Ukraine to his personal and political benefit, and potentially your own," Robert Menendez of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote to secretary of state Mike Pompeo in response to the news.

"By unceremoniously recalling ambassador Taylor early, in a manner similar to ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s removal, you would once again denigrate the role of our frontline diplomats serving around the world."

Andrew Buncombe reports.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 09:45
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Ex-Bush ethics lawyer says Republicans have Senate trial rigged

As attention turns to the looming prospect of a trial in the Republican-held Senate in January, which Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer to George W Bush, has already warned will be “rigged”.

Responding to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News last week, in which the leading Republican pledged to co-ordinate his handing of the next stage of the process with the White House, Painter tweeted:

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 10:00
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Mitch McConnell blocks Democrats from summoning key White House witnesses to trial

McConnell moved yesterday to block minority leader Chuck Schumer's demand that he be allowed to call high-profile witnesses like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and ex-national security adviser John Bolton, making his views on the matter abundantly clear:

“If the Senate volunteers ourselves to do House Democrats’ homework for them, we will only incentivise an endless stream of dubious partisan impeachments in the future,” he scoffed.

Schumer objected angrily but to no avail:

Schumer was particularly incredulous after asking his rival: “Leader McConnell, are you, in Alexander Hamilton’s words, unawed and uninfluenced to produce the necessary impartiality, or will you participate in a cover-up?” 

“I’m not impartial about this at all,” came the reply.

"I’m utterly amazed by what Mitch McConnell said," Schumer gasped. “Do the American people want Mitch McConnell not to be an impartial juror in this situation?”

A very good question indeed.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 10:15
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Trump mounts desperate Twitter defence, hails himself the '(Economy Plus) President of the United States'

Even by his standards, Trump's Twitter performance overnight was extraordinary.

He claimed the Democrats were pressurising their members to vote against him (Nancy Pelosi says it's between an individual and their conscience how they vote), claimed he got "good reviews" for his laughable letter and pushed more Fox-inspired conspiracy theories about the FBI, referring to himself as "a very successful (Economy Plus) President of the United States", which inadvertently made him sound like a discount special offer.

He also began singling out individual Republican members of Congress like Kay Granger, Markwayne Mullin and Denver Riggleman for praise, coraling their votes just as he had accused Pelosi of doing!

As for those "good reviews", #trumpletter is currently trending on Twitter so here is a small selection of opinions to the contrary.

More?! Greg Evans has you covered.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 10:30
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President 'trolling' Pelosi with letter, White House aide says

Despite all that, Trump isn't actually worried about impeachment, according to a White House official.

He was just "trolling" the speaker by sending it, you see.

Conrad Duncan has more.

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 10:45
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House agrees massive $1.4trn spending package to avert new shutdown but bankrolls Trump's border wall

The House yesterday voted to pass a $1.4trn (£1trn) government spending package, handing Trump a victory on his US-Mexico border fence while giving Democrats spending increases across a swath of domestic programmes.

The hard-fought legislation also funds a record Pentagon budget and is serving as a must-pass legislative locomotive to tow an unusually large haul of unrelated provisions into law, including an expensive repeal of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health plans, help for retired coal miners, and an increase from 18 to 21 in the nationwide legal age to buy tobacco products.

The two-bill package, some 2,371 pages long after additional tax provisions were folded in on Tuesday morning, was unveiled on Monday afternoon and adopted less than 24 hours later as lawmakers prepared to wrap up reams of unfinished work against a backdrop of Wednesday's vote on impeaching Trump.

The House first passed a measure funding domestic programmes on a 297-120 vote. But one-third of the Democrats defected on a 280-138 vote on the second bill, which funds the military and the Department of Homeland Security, mostly because it funds Trump's border wall project.

The spending legislation forestalls a new government shutdown this weekend and gives Trump steady funding for his US-Mexico border fence, a move that frustrated Hispanic Democrats and party liberals. The year-end package is anchored by a $1.4trn spending measure that caps a difficult, monthslong battle over spending priorities.

The mammoth measure made public on Monday takes a split-the-differences approach that's a product of divided power in Washington, offering lawmakers of all stripes plenty to vote for and against. Speaker Pelosi was a driving force, along with administration pragmatists such as Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the summertime budget deal that it implements.

The White House said on Tuesday that Trump will sign the measure. "The president is poised to sign it and to keep the government open," his adviser Kellyanne Conway assured reporters.

The bill also offers business friendly provisions on export financing, flood insurance and immigrant workers. The roster of add-ons grew over the weekend to include the permanent repeal of a tax on high-cost "Cadillac" health insurance benefits and a hard-won provision to finance health care and pension benefits for about 100,000 retired union coal miners threatened by the insolvency of their pension fund. A tax on medical devices and health insurance plans would also be repealed permanently.

The cost of the package grew as lawmakers added the repeal of three so-called "Obamacare" taxes and extended expiring tax breaks. Those policy changes will add $428bn (£327bn) to the deficit over 10 years.

The legislation is laced with provisions reflecting divided power in Washington. Republicans maintained the status quo on several abortion-related battles and on funding for Trump's border wall. Democrats controlling the House succeeded in winning a 3.1 per cent raise for federal civilian employees and the first installment of funding on gun violence research after more than two decades of gun lobby opposition.

Late on Monday, negotiators unveiled a scaled-back $39bn (£29.7bn) package of additional business tax breaks, renewing tax breaks for craft brewers and distillers, among others. The so-called tax extenders are a creature of Washington, a heavily lobbied menu of arcane tax breaks that are typically tailored to narrow, often parochial interests like renewable energy, capital depreciation rules and racehorse ownership. But a bigger effort to trade refundable tax credits for the working poor for fixes to the 2017 GOP tax bill didn't pan out.

The sweeping legislation, introduced as two packages for political and tactical purposes, is part of a major final burst of legislation that's passing Congress this week despite bitter partisan divisions and Wednesday's likely impeachment of Trump. Thursday promises a vote on a major rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, while the Senate is about to send the president the annual defense policy bill for the 59th year in a row.

(Samuel Corum/Getty)

The core of the spending bill is formed by the 12 annual agency appropriations bills passed by Congress each year. It fills in the details of a bipartisan framework from July that delivered about $100bn (£76bn) in agency spending increases over the coming two years instead of automatic spending cuts that would have sharply slashed the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The increase in the tobacco purchasing age to 21 also applies to e-cigarettes and vaping devices and gained momentum after Mitch McConnell signed on. But anti-smoking activists said the provision didn't go far enough because it failed to ban flavored vaping products popular with teenagers.

"The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes are driving the youth epidemic," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "As long as flavored e-cigarettes remain available, kids will find ways to get them and this epidemic will continue."

Other add-ons include a variety of provisions sought by business and labour interests and their lobbyists in Washington.

For business, there's a seven-year extension of the charter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance transactions benefiting US exporters, as well as a renewal of the government's terrorism risk insurance programme. The financially troubled government flood insurance programme would be extended through September, as would several visa programs for both skilled and seasonal workers.

Labour won repeal of the so-called Cadillac tax, a 40 per cent tax on high-cost employer health plans, which was originally intended to curb rapidly growing health care spending. But it disproportionately affected high-end plans won under union contracts and Democratic labour allies had previously succeeded in temporary repeals.

Democrats controlling the House won increased funding for early childhood education and a variety of other domestic programmes. They also won higher Medicaid funding for the cash-poor government of Puerto Rico, which is struggling to recover from hurricane devastation and a resulting economic downturn.

While Republicans touted defense hikes and Democrats reeled off numerous increases for domestic programs, most of the provisions of the spending bill enjoy bipartisan support, including increases for medical research, combating the opioid epidemic, Head Start and child care grants to states.

Democrats also secured $425m (£324m) for states to upgrade their election systems and they boosted the US Census budget $1.4bn (£1bn) above Trump's request. They won smaller increases for the Environmental Protection Agency, renewable energy programs and affordable housing.

"I am so proud that we are able to do so much good for children and families across the country and around the world," said House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey.

The outcome in the latest chapter in the long-standing battle over Trump's border wall awards Trump with $1.4bn for new barriers - equal to last year's appropriation - while preserving Trump's ability to use his budget powers to tap other accounts for several times that amount. That's a blow for liberal opponents of the wall but an acceptable trade-off for pragmatic-minded Democrats who wanted to gain $27bn (£21bn) in increases for domestic programmes and avert the threat of simply funding the government on autopilot.

"Many members of the CHC will vote against it," said Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) chairman Joaquin Castro. "It's true that there are a lot of good things and Democratic victories in the spending agreement. I think everybody appreciates those. What members of the Hispanic Caucus are concerned with is the wall money, the high level of detention beds, and most of all with the ability of the president to transfer money both to wall and to detention beds in the future."

The bill also extends a long-standing freeze on lawmakers' pay despite behind-the-scenes efforts this spring to revive a cost-of-living hike approved years ago but shelved during the Obama administration.

Because dozens of Democrats oppose the border wall, Pelosi paired money for the Department of Homeland Security with the almost $700bn (£534bn) Pentagon budget, which won more than enough GOP votes to offset Democratic defections.

AP

Joe Sommerlad18 December 2019 11:00

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