WASHINGTON-Democrats propelled US President Donald Trump’s impeachment toward a historic vote by the full US House of Representatives as the Judiciary Committee on Friday approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It’s the latest step in the constitutional and political storm that has divided Congress and the nation.

The House is expected to approve the two articles of impeachment this week.

The partisan split in the Judiciary Committee vote-23 Democrats to 17 Republicans-reflects the atmosphere in Congress. The House, where Democrats form the majority, was expected to approve the charges against Trump this week, but the Republican-controlled Senate is likely to acquit him after a January trial.

Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a likely rival in the 2020 election, while holding military aid as leverage. The second article charges him with obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to probe his actions.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said after the session, marking the third time in US history the Judiciary Committee has voted to recommend impeaching a president. He said the full House would act “expeditiously”.

Following the votes, Trump denounced the inquiry and actions against him, using the terms he’s relied on for months. He referred to the impeachment effort four times as “a hoax”, twice as “a sham” and once each as a “scam”, “witch hunt” and “disgrace”. He described his actions as “perfect” three times and said four times he did nothing wrong.

When he had asked Ukraine to “do us a favor” in the July phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry, he said, the “us” referred to the United States, not a political favor for himself.

Trump ‘benefiting’

Trump said he watched “quite a bit” of the previous day’s proceedings, and he derided the officials who testified that he pressured Ukraine. He claimed he actually was benefiting politically from impeachment.

The House panel’s voting was swift and solemn on Friday, with none of the fiery speeches and weighty nods to history that defined the previous two days of debate, including 14 hours that stretched nearly to midnight Thursday. Nadler abruptly halted that rancorous session so voting could be held in daylight, for the US public to see on TV.

Nadler, who had said he wanted lawmakers to “search their consciences” before casting their votes, gaveled in the landmark but brief morning session at the Capitol. Lawmakers responded “aye” or “yes” for the Democrats, simply “no’ for the Republicans. There was no new debate.

Trump is only the fourth US president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time. Next week’s House votes pose potentially serious political consequences for both parties ahead of the 2020 elections, with the US public deeply divided over whether the president indeed conducted impeachable acts and whether it should be up to Congress or the voters to decide whether he should remain in office.

Representative Debbie Lesko, a Republican, defended Trump against what she called “unfair, rigged” proceedings. “They had no proof, no evidence, no crime, but they went ahead anyway and they’re tearing the country apart,” she said.

Trump has refused to participate in the proceedings and instructed White House officials not to as well, tweeting criticisms from the sidelines and mocking the charges against him in the House’s nine-page resolution as “impeachment light.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president was wrong and the case against him was deeply grounded.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday: “There is zero chance the president will be removed from office.” As he filed for his own reelection bid on Friday in Kentucky, he said the Democrats have a “weak case”.

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