A Democratic-controlled House of Representatives committee on Friday took US President Donald Trump to the brink of impeachment when it approved two charges against him stemming from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.
A deeply divided House Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 to approve articles of impeachment charging Trump with both abusing the power of his office over Ukraine and obstructing House Democrats’ attempts to investigate him for it.
If the full House votes next week to impeach Trump, as expected, the Republican will become the third US president to be impeached. But the chances of him being removed from office are close to zero because the Senate, which is dominated by Republicans, will have the final say.
Asked for his reaction to the House committee vote, Trump repeated his criticism of the Democrats’ impeachment effort: “It’s a witch hunt, it’s a sham, it’s a hoax.”
The president, speaking to reporters while meeting with Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez, accused Democrats of “trivialising impeachment”.
Trump said impeachment is good for him politically, citing polls showing increasing support. He said he would not mind a short or a long impeachment process.
In congressional hearings that have gripped Washington, Democrats have accused the president of endangering the US Constitution, jeopardising national security and undermining the integrity of the 2020 election by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to investigate Biden.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,” the committee’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Nadler, said. “For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president.”
Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a politically motivated farce aimed at overturning his surprise 2016 presidential election victory.
“A sad, ridiculous sham in the US House of Representatives. This needs to come to a quick end,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is often a staunch defender of Trump, wrote on Twitter.
If impeached, Trump will go on trial in the Senate early next year, just as the 2020 presidential campaign begins to pick up speed.
Biden, a former US vice-president, is a leading Democratic candidate to face Trump in November’s general election. Trump has alleged that Biden was involved in corruption in Ukraine and should be investigated but the president has offered no evidence. The Democrat denies any wrongdoing.
The abuse of power charge against Trump also accuses him of freezing nearly US$400 million in US security aid to Ukraine and offering a possible White House meeting to Zelensky to get him to publicly announce investigations of Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump also asked Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.
The obstruction charge against Trump is based on his directives to current and former administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, even if that meant defying subpoenas.
A senior Democratic aide said the House tentatively plans to hold an impeachment debate next Wednesday ahead of a vote on whether to impeach Trump and send him for trial.
Signalling investors’ lack of concern at political upheaval, US stocks hit fresh record levels on Friday on optimism over a possible trade deal between China and the United States.
Trump is running for re-election in 2020, a contest expected to be a bitter, partisan battle with a Democratic nominee who will be chosen next year.
The impeachment inquiry was launched in September after a whistle-blower complaint about the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s Zelensky.