/Late Into the Night on Capitol Hill: A Debate of Impeachment Articles Begins at 7 P.M.
Late Into the Night on Capitol Hill: A Debate of Impeachment Articles Begins at 7 P.M.

Late Into the Night on Capitol Hill: A Debate of Impeachment Articles Begins at 7 P.M.

The hour lent a prime-time urgency to the spectacle, but both sides reverted to boilerplate.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Mark Leibovich

WASHINGTON — They might as well have been speaking different languages, from alternate realities. They spoke mostly past each other, late into the cable night and into history.

“With a heavy heart but clear in my duty to our country, I support these articles of impeachment,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the Judiciary Committee chairman, leading off the committee’s debate of two articles of impeachment against President Trump. “I urge my colleagues to support them, as well.”

Mr. Nadler convened this rhetorical death march at precisely 7 p.m. Wednesday. The unusual timing was to advance the Democrats’ impeachment articles to the House floor in time for a full vote as quickly as possible, possibly by next Tuesday.

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, responded a few minutes later with incredulity. Spare him the heavy heart. “We have been on this path since November 2016,” Mr. Collins said, also claiming that Democrats have been intent on trying to oust Mr. Trump since they won the House majority last year.

The late hour lent a charged vibe of prime-time urgency to the spectacle. But the mood quickly reverted to the same themes and boilerplates familiar to anyone who has been paying attention over the past five weeks.

Democrats said they had a clear-cut case against Mr. Trump and were determined to hold him to account for his actions. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to “overturn the results of an election,” of being blinded by their hatred of the president and, yes, of his supporters and their “way of life.”

The committee’s debate was actually the start of a “markup,” lawmaking parlance for the process House and Senate committees use to amend and hash out whatever legislative action they plan to advance to the floor for a full House vote. Ideally, this would be a collaborative process, marked by good faith, willingness to compromise and trust between the parties.

Ideally.

And then there was Wednesday night. Over three and a half hours, committee members took turns talking about how somber and solemn and prayerful this occasion was.

“A sad day in U.S. history,” said Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California.

“I agree with everybody that tonight is a very solemn night,” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin.

“This is truly a sad day for America — it’s a sad week for America,” said Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, his voice choking with emotion when he invoked the president. “He has hung in there, it’s amazing,” he said of Mr. Trump. Mr. Gohmert called for Democrats to apologize to the president for the ordeal they have put him through.

No apology was forthcoming.

If nothing else, these past few weeks have provided a lesson in Capitol Hill expectation-setting. Despite charged testimony, compelling witnesses and some significant revelations, no major players of either party have shown any sign of budging from their partisan bunkers. The proverbial needle, it would appear, has not moved.

No one was expecting any epic acts of statesmanship to break out in the Ways and Means Committee Room on Wednesday night. There was nothing on par with, say, Representative Barbara Jordan, the Texas Democrat who in a Judiciary Committee hearing during the Watergate scandal delivered a memorable homage to the Constitution and a denunciation of President Richard M. Nixon, a defining moment of those proceedings.

Nor were there any surprise breaks from either ranks, as when Representative Lawrence Hogan, the Maryland Republican who had supported Nixon, stunned the White House by announcing he would vote for impeachment, citing the president’s lies, deceptions and “immoral attitudes.”

On Wednesday night, a few Democrats brought up Mr. Hogan, the father of the current Republican governor of Maryland. They said they wished that today’s Republicans would heed his example, assert their independence and stun the prime-time audience with a switch of positions.

It was more rhetorical wish than viable possibility. The five-minute speeches continued, one after another. By 10 p.m., the panel took on a decidedly low-energy posture. Members stared off as the last speakers closed out the evening. There were few interruptions, no surprises and a steady march to the exits.

At 10: 20 p.m., after nearly three and a half hours and a few minutes before adjourning the panel for the night, Mr. Nadler and Mr. Collins appeared to share a smile. Maybe one of them cracked a joke. Either way, it was a flash of bipartisan lightness to end things, a tiny surprise, if not a breakthrough.

Still, not a lot was likely to change, so let us get on with it. The debate was to start up again at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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