WASHINGTON ― Before the historic House vote to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday, Democrats argued the president violated his oath of office by abusing power and breaking the law. Republicans argued about process.
“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said on the House floor. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this President and this process.”
During more than six hours of debate, Republicans offered a wide range of procedural gripes. They called the process a “witch hunt,” a “kangaroo court,” a “sham,” a “complete charade,” and a “total joke.” One likened it to Pearl Harbor.
At one point, Republicans stood on the House floor in a solemn moment of silence to honor the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump.
As Democrats pointed out repeatedly, Republicans didn’t spend much time disputing the facts. Instead, the primary focus for GOP members Wednesday was that Democrats hadn’t provided “due process” to Trump.
Republicans started the day by forcing procedural votes, complaining that Democratic committee chairs had violated obscure committee procedures during the impeachment inquiry by not giving the minority the power to call their own witnesses. (In fact, Democrats allowed Republicans to suggest witnesses, and a number of them testified.)
They complained about which committees Democrats used to conduct the inquiry. “Never in the history of the United States have we had impeachment that’s gone through the Intelligence Committee,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Wis.) said.
They complained that the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees used the spacious Ways and Means Committee room. “They couldn’t even meet while you were doing all of this,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said, even though Ways and Means actually did have hearings during the impeachment inquiry.
And they complained that Democrats are just huge partisans.
“This vote, this day has nothing to do with Ukraine,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said. “This vote, this day is about one thing and one thing only: They hate this president.”
Republicans complained time and again Wednesday that Trump hadn’t received “due process” during impeachment, even though impeachment is not a criminal proceeding. And they made the case, repeatedly, that Democrats have sought to impeach Trump since even before he took office.
When Republicans did defend the president ― Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) claimed that the Democrats’ “allies in the media” liked to claim that Republicans only focus on process when “we continue to talk about substance as well” ― they did so with half-truths and outright lies.
This vote, this day is about one thing and one thing only: they hate this president. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah)
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) claimed the president’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was just to say congratulations.
On that call, President Trump told Zelensky “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine” and that he wanted a “favor.” He asked Zelensky for investigations into Joe Biden, his top 2020 election opponent, and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Those requests launched the impeachment inquiry because they show the president using the power of his office to benefit his reelection campaign. And Trump withheld $391 million of congressionally appropriated security aid to further pressure Ukraine into opening an investigation.
But Burgess insisted the president’s request for a favor was totally innocent.
“A request for investigation as to how American foreign aid will be spent does not, does not equal soliciting election interference,” he said.
President Trump himself, speaking on the White House lawn on Oct. 3, has made it clear what he wanted from the Ukrainians: “I would think that, if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer.”
Many Republicans also claimed that Trump just wanted to root out corruption in a country that benefits from U.S. foreign aid, implying it’s just a coincidence that Biden was involved in the supposed corruption.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) opted for a more brazenly untrue take: “Joe Biden was not the opponent of Donald Trump,” he said, pointing out that Biden is part of a crowded Democratic primary. (The former vice president has topped the field since at least April.)
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) claimed that because Trump used a plural pronoun when he requested the favor from Zelensky, the favor was for all of America, not for him.“‘I want you to do us a favor.’ Not me a favor, us a favor,” Sensenbrenner said. “And there he was referring to our country, the United States of America, not a personal political gain.”
Several diplomats testified under oath last month that pressing for an investigation into Biden was not in the U.S. national interest.
The most substantive defense of Trump came from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who repeatedly pointed out that the aid that had been withheld was actually released. It’s not the strongest point, since the White House released the assistance only after a whistleblower complained that it had been withheld for improper reasons.
Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this President and this process. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.)
For the most part, the defense of the president came in short statements such as “no quid pro quo” and simple assertions that the president didn’t commit any crimes. Mostly, it was about the process.
“This was a political crusade in order to arrive at their predetermined conclusion,” Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said. “House Democrats spent the last several months staging well-rehearsed hearings where the charges were drawn up by their own focus groups.”
“Not only is the process alarming, but it’s wasting taxpayers’ dollars and valuable time that elected officials could be using to move our country forward,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said.
“They are trying to reach their predetermined political outcome and along the way they have steamrolled over a constitutionally guaranteed due process and the federal rules of civil procedure,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said.
Before the floor debate, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told HuffPost that though the Constitution doesn’t give the president due process rights in an impeachment inquiry, it doesn’t not give the president rights, either.
Conaway said it was about fairness, and that Democrats had “not given the president due process that the common criminal would have gotten under any other circumstance.”
A key difference between impeachment and a criminal trial, however, is that the president is not facing any loss of liberty if the Senate convicts him. He just couldn’t be president anymore.