On December 18, Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached. The House voted to impeach him as Mr. Trump held a rally.
He was impeached for two reasons: abusing his power and obstructing Congress. The first charge related to his dealings in Ukraine. He withheld U.S. military aid from Ukraine unless its president announced investigations that would benefit his 2020 reelection campaign. The second article accused Mr. Trump of blocking evidence and witnesses that had been demanded under congressional subpoena in the impeachment inquiry.
Here are the highlights and key takeaways from this historic week:
How members voted
Leading up to the House vote, moderate Democrats and Democrats from districts that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 were the ones to watch. In the end, three of them either voted against impeachment or only for one of the articles.
- Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey voted against both articles. Shortly after the vote, he announced his intention to switch to the Republican Party, and Mr. Trump swiftly endorsed him.
- Collin Peterson of Minnesota voted against both articles.
- Jared Golden of Maine voted against obstruction of Congress but in favor of abuse of power.
Republicans, meanwhile, stood as a united front, with zero defections.
The chamber’s sole independent, Justin Amash, voted for both articles.
One House member, Tulsi Gabbard, who’s not running for reelection but is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, refused to weigh in. She simply voted “present.” After reading the impeachment report, she said she “could not in good conscience vote either yes or no.”
A nation divided
While slightly more of the public believes the president should have been impeached, they’re largely divided. According to a CBS News poll, support for impeachment grew between November and December — from 43% to 46% — and opposition fell — from 40% to 39%. The rest (16%) thought it was too soon to say.
The public is far more divided today than in 1998. A large majority of Americans (64%) did not support the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. (Read how Mr. Trump’s impeachment compared to Mr. Clinton’s here.)
The day before the impeachment vote, Mr. Trump sent a six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “for the purpose of history and to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record.” It listed no new arguments or requests but vented his frustrations with the impeachment process and accused Democrats of being guilty of what they were impeaching him for.
“You are the ones interfering in America’s elections,” Mr. Trump wrote. “You are the ones subverting America’s Democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain.”
He insisted that he’s being treated worse than the defendants in the Salem witch trials (most of the defendants were executed).
Immediately after his impeachment, Mr. Trump told a crowd of his supporters at a rally that “it doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached.” Sources involved in his impeachment defense say the president is “angry” but actually in a “very good mood” and feels confident that he can win the messaging war on Twitter as lawmakers head home for the holidays. In fact, those sources say he may try to convince the public that he hasn’t actually been impeached because the House has yet to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
The Senate trial
Before a Senate trial can begin, there are still a couple of steps to be taken. The House must pick an impeachment manager to serve as a prosecutor during the trial, it must send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, and the Senate has to agree on rules for the trial.
Pelosi, however, is waiting for the Senate to draft those rules before she picks her impeachment managers. One of the names that’s been floated is Justin Amash, an independent congressman and vocal Trump critic who left the Republican Party earlier this year.
The Senate must decide whether witnesses will be called, what kind of evidence to admit, and how long the trial will last.
Mr. Trump had expressed interest in more testimony (even though his blocking of evidence and witnesses in the House is partially what led to his impeachment). He argues that the trial will be “fair” in the Senate, where Republicans have control.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham want a quick trial because, as McConnell told Fox News, “We know how it’s going to end. The president’s not going to be removed from office.”
The witnesses Democrats want are the ones that Mr. Trump blocked from appearing in the House: White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his senior adviser, Robert Blair; former national security adviser John Bolton; and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey. They were all directly involved in the withholding of military aid from Ukraine.
2020 election impact
Mr. Trump is the first president to be impeached during his first term. In other words, he’s the first president whose future is in the hands of voters after receiving the second-to-worst punishment from Congress. The worst being removal from office, which is unlikely to happen.
The president predicts that his impeachment will have dire consequences for Democrats, not him. He called impeachment a “political suicide march for the Democratic party.”
As far as his Democratic rivals in the presidential race go, their response to the news of his impeachment was fairly predictable. Elizabeth Warren used the opportunity to fundraise. Andrew Yang plugged his economic platform. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, a central figure in the impeachment, echoed Pelosi’s sentiment that it was a “sad day.” Mike Bloomberg issued a warning to voters.
“If Donald Trump wins re-election, he will make extorting a foreign head of state for campaign purposes look like child’s play. 2020 is not just an election. It’s a referendum on whether to save our Constitution — or let Trump light it on fire,” he said.
Amy Klobuchar called on the president to allow witnesses to testify in the Senate trial.
The Senate trial itself could hurt the senators running for president. It will take Booker, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren off the campaign trail at a crucial time. The Iowa caucuses, which kick off the primary season, take place on February 3.
The global response
In Ukraine, the country at the center of the impeachment inquiry, people interviewed by CBS News didn’t seem to care — or even know about the news.
“Ordinary Ukrainians, most of them, have no idea what is going [on] with this,” said Dmytro Potekhin, a Ukrainian political observer and former human rights activist. “They don’t know that there are impeachment hearings in the states, and they don’t know that Ukraine is regularly mentioned in them.”
But he said it’s not really a lack of interest. The impeachment story is “underreported” inside Ukraine, Potekhin said. He noted some Ukrainian-based print and digital news organizations reported on the historic vote, but most local television outlets barely mentioned it, and the majority of people get their news from local TV.
In neighboring Russia, President Vladimir Putin echoed Republicans’ arguments and accused Democrats of trying to undo the election. The U.S. intelligence community concluded after the 2016 presidential election that Russia had interfered in the election, hacking and leaking emails and conducting a sophisticated social media disinformation campaign supported and directed by the Kremlin.
Stefan Becket, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus, Kabir Khanna, Melissa Quinn, Paula Reid, Anthony Salvanto, Grace Segers, Ben Tracy, Kathryn Watson and the Associated Press contributed reporting.