President Donald Trump becomes 3rd president to be impeached; in surprise, Pelosi may delay sending articles to Senate

Trump is such a powerful, effective communicator — it is easier, of course, when you disregard facts and truth — that he may succeed in diluting the stain of impeachment.

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President Donald Trump arrived at W. K. Kellogg Airport as the U.S. House of Representatives debates his impeachment Dec. 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Michigan.

President Donald Trump arrives at W. K. Kellogg Airport as the U.S. House of Representatives debates his impeachment Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — You may not know this, but behind the House Chamber is the Speaker’s Lobby, an ornate room with a fireplace. The logs were burning on this chilly Wednesday, as President Donald Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

The surprise of the day would not come until the evening, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the votes that she may delay sending the articles of impeachment to the GOP-controlled Senate for Trump’s trial. That’s because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to let Trump keep stonewalling — blocking witnesses and documents and shrugs off the notion of an impartial trial.

She’s not even going to appoint impeachment managers — or prosecutors — right away. We’re in uncharted waters.

In the morning, Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was sitting in front of the fireplace, on his phone. When he finished, we talked about Trump’s impeachment as other Illinois Democrats materialized. As we chatted, Rep. Dan Lipinski walked by, iPhone to ear. A few feet away Rep. Mike Quigley was talking to another reporter. Soon, Rep. Bill Foster came over, holding a copy of The Economist with the timely headline, “On trial — Impeachment and American democracy.”

Garcia represents a safe Democrat Chicago-based district, has no primary opponent and faces a token Republican in November. He called for a Trump impeachment inquiry back in May, months before Trump’s call with the Ukraine president — the centerpiece of the impeachment articles — became known.

I asked Garcia to describe the significance of the day.

“I’m stirred. I am inspired, I am reinvigorated by the actions of those who are putting it all on the line.And I’m also carrying a heavy burden about how we bring our country together after this action.”

I asked Foster words he would pick.

“Solemn, sad, frustrated that our system selected a person like our president who has behaved like our president to lead our country at a very important time.”

As historic as the day was, the outcome was not in doubt. With Democratic-only votes, two articles of impeachment were approved against Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump defended himself Wednesday in a series of angry Tweets, casting enormous doubt on the accuracy of his press secretary’s statement that, “The President will be working all day.He will be briefed by staff throughout that day, and could catch some of the proceedings between meetings.”

In the evening, Trump, the reality showman, scheduled a rally at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Michigan, set for about the same time the House was to vote in order to force split screen coverage.

Trump is such a powerful, effective communicator — it is easier, of course, when you disregard facts and truth —that he may actually succeed in diluting the stain of impeachment.

Trump has been so successful in busting norms and weaponizing Twitter that impeachment may not inflict much political damage on him. Indeed, he is emboldened and will work in 2020 to strip House Democrats of their majority, a victory to be as sweet to him as his own reelection.

His obit could read, “President Donald John Trump, the third president in the nation’s history to be impeached, went on to win election to a second term.” (President Bill Clinton had already won election to a second term when he was impeached in 1998.)

Many Illinois Democrats spoke in favor of impeachment on the House floor. Voting to impeach Trump is “about my legacy, my modest place in history,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “Impeachment is not an option, it’s an obligation, because no one is above the law,” said Rep. Robin Kelly.

Illinois sends 13 Democrats and five Republicans to the House. All Illinois Democrats voting were for both articles of impeachment. The Illinois Republicans in the chamber were nays, with Rep. John Shimkus absent.

Shimkus, the senior Republican in the delegation — who is not running for reelection — was not there because with his wife, Karen, he was visiting his son, Joshua, serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. In a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Shimkus said the trip was planned before the vote. While at the White House recently, he said he told Trump he opposed his impeachment.

This is worth noting since in October, Shimkus withdrew as an honorary chair of Trump’s Illinois campaign after the president abandoned U.S.-allied Kurds.

A few hours before the vote, I talked to Rep. Darin LaHood, a Republican from central Illinois, near the House chamber. I asked him where he was when his father, former Rep. Ray LaHood, was presiding over Clinton’s 1998 impeachment. He was watching from afar as a John Marshall law school student.

On the House floor Wednesday, LaHood was among the Republicans defending the president.

Said LaHood, “As I’ve reviewed the facts and evidence as a former federal prosecutor, I’ve read the transcripts, I’ve watched the hearings, I’ve read the whistleblower report. That has not been met here. In addition, this process has lacked fairness, due process and transparency. We shouldn’t be here tonight doing this. This is a travesty.”

The voting on the first article started at 8:09 p.m. ET. The gravity of the moment was upon us. The four big voting boards above the rostrum — LED TV screens otherwise hidden behind fabric — came to life. Yeas or “Y” were green. Nays or “N” were red. Present or “P” is orange. At 7:34 p.m. CT the first article — on abuse of power — was approved 230-197 with one present. At 7: 51 p.m. CT the second article — on obstruction of Congress — was adopted 229-198 with one present. Those present votes came from Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, a 2020 presidential candidate.

The House Democrats now will grapple with their victory and what it means — for history and keeping the House in 2020. Senate Republicans who will control Trump’s trial there, will prevent Trump’s conviction and removal from office — if indeed there is a trial.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., delivered the reality ending in his closing remarks.

Said McCarthy, “Trump is the President today. He will be President tomorrow. And he will be President when this impeachment is over.”

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