Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania reached for a different comparison, likening the Democrats’ December impeachment of Trump to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, which drew the U.S. into World War II. “Today, December 18, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy,” he said.
Republicans said the Democrats had had it in for Trump from the minute he took office; that they could not countenance an election in which the states, through the Electoral College, overruled the popular vote of the people; that they would gin up any controversy as an excuse to impeach a president they just plain didn’t like.
There was some truth in this. There were Democrats who saw Trump as a threat to the constitutional order from the outset, who called for his ouster for all manner of actions and statements, from the corporate profits he continued to rake in as president, to his various racist outbursts, to his drive to ban travel from majority-Muslim countries, to the allegations of obstruction of justice documented by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
If there was a mandate in Trump’s slim 2016 victory, it wasn’t for a particular set of policies but for a tough-talking dealmaker to dispense with the stale niceties of official Washington. The new president delivered on that promise with his Twitter feed alone, and if it were only a few cherished norms that he’d abandoned, perhaps today’s vote would never have happened.
Opening the six-hour floor debate shortly after noon today, Pelosi said Trump was “an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections.” Standing alongside an image of the American flag and a quote from the Pledge of Allegiance, Pelosi struck the same somber, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone that she has throughout the process. Impeachment was not a desire but an obligation. “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty,” she said. “It is tragic that the president’s actions make impeachment necessary.”
That message became a theme among Pelosi’s members. “I did not come to Congress to impeach the president” was the refrain, uttered as a rebuttal to the GOP’s argument that the whole thing was precooked and as a reminder that Democrats waited nine months before even launching their inquiry.
As the debate wore on and the votes drew close, Republicans began heckling Democrats, drawing reprimands for order in the chamber from the presiding officer. They jeered Representative Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and they audibly scoffed as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recounted the Democrats’ reluctance to pursue impeachment until recently. “We did not want this,” Hoyer said somberly. A Republican on the floor replied, “Oh, come on!”
Read: The stain of impeachment will last forever
It wasn’t Trump’s shirking of norms but his obvious and outspoken disdain for rules and even laws that made his impeachment, at least with the benefit of hindsight, inevitable. That, and his refusal to quit when he was ahead. Pelosi was ready to give Trump a pass for his profiteering, for his defiance of Congress in directing money to his border wall and in stonewalling Democratic oversight investigations, for his alleged misdeeds in the Mueller report. But it was lost on no one that Trump’s call with Zelensky came on the day after Mueller’s lackluster performance on Capitol Hill lifted, once and for all, the two-year cloud that had cast his presidency in shadow.