WASHINGTON - The House Judiciary Committee is set to begin debate Wednesday night on the two narrowly drafted articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is scheduled to gavel the meeting open at 7 p.m. The panel is expected to hear opening statements from its 41 members before recessing until Thursday morning, when it will debate proposed amendments to the articles before voting on the articles themselves.
That would set up a full House vote on Trump's impeachment for next week before Congress breaks for the holidays.
Congress has impeached only two presidents in history: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the House could vote on articles of impeachment in the Watergate scandal. Lawmakers drafted three articles against Nixon, including charges of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that mirror the abuse-of-power and obstruction allegations Trump now faces.
At the heart of the Democrats' case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine to combat Russian military aggression, to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that the Senate impeachment trial will begin early next year if the House approves its articles before the holiday recess.
"If the House continues this destructive road and sends us articles of impeachment, the Senate will take them up in the new year and proceed to a fair trial," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "Assuming that House Democrats send us articles of impeachment next week, a Senate trial will have to be our first item of business in January."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Wednesday that the House had made "an extremely strong case" for Trump's impeachment and questioned why Trump has refused to participate in the inquiry.
Schumer contended that Trump "has had every chance to defend himself."
"If the president is so innocent, if this is a mere witch hunt, why isn't he answering the specific charges?" the senator asked. "Why is he blocking witnesses from testifying who would have direct knowledge of these facts?"
Forty-five percent of Americans think that Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 50% disagree, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
The poll is the second released in as many days that show slightly greater opposition to impeachment and removal than support.
On Tuesday, a poll released by Quinnipiac University showed that 45% of registered voters say Trump should be impeached and removed, while 51% say he should not be.
Some other polls conducted since the start of public impeachment hearings in the House have shown a somewhat different picture.
An Economist-YouGov poll released last week, for example, showed that 47% of Americans support the impeachment and removal of Trump, while 40% are opposed.
Trump on Wednesday morning retweeted a spate of commentary on impeachment and FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign from like-minded Republican lawmakers, conservative commentators and other allies.
At a rally Tuesday night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he called the impeachment process a "sham," and a desperate tactic by Democrats to gain an advantage in next year's election.
"You know why, because they want to win an election and this is the only way they can do it," Trump said.
Former energy secretary Rick Perry voiced support Wednesday for an unfounded notion advanced by Trump and other Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
"Before this is said and done, there will be evidence that you can point to that clearly shows that the Ukrainians were engaged in trying to manipulate the election," Perry said during an interview on Fox News.
Perry's assessment is at odds with that of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said in an interview with ABC News on Monday that there was "no indication" that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
Perry was among the "three amigos" - along with European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker - who operated an irregular foreign policy channel to push Ukraine to announce the investigations Trump sought.
Meanwhile, Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, a Democratic presidential contender, will donate $10 million Thursday to defend vulnerable Democratic House members against paid Republican attacks on their support for impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The money, which is meant to even an arms race on the 2020 congressional battlefield, was cheered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has been fielding concerns from some of her members over a costly Republican advertising offensive as the House moves toward an impeachment vote next week.
“In 2018, Mayor Bloomberg was a critical ally in helping House Democrats regain the majority,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Now, the stakes are even higher as we work to make health care more affordable by reducing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, increase wages and root out corruption. We welcome and thank Mayor Bloomberg for his support.”