WASHINGTON: The impeachment of President Donald Trump in the US House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress sets the stage for a historic trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate on whether he should be removed from office.
The mostly party-line votes on Wednesday (Dec 18) in the Democratic-led House came after long hours of bitter debate that reflected the partisan tensions in a divided America, and made Trump the third US president to be impeached.
Republicans argued that Democrats were using a rigged process to nullify the 2016 election and influence Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, while Democrats said Trump's actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender, were a threat to democracy.
Trump is certain to face more friendly terrain during a trial in the 100-member Senate, where a vote to remove him would require a two-thirds majority.
That means at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump - and none have indicated they will.
The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has predicted there is "no chance" his chamber will remove Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the vote she would wait to name the House managers, who will prosecute the case, until she knew more about the Senate trial procedures. She did not specify when she would send the impeachment articles to the Senate.
"So far, we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us," Pelosi told reporters of the Senate process.
Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, the former US vice president, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.
Democrats said Trump held back US$391 million in security aid intended to combat Russia-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.
Trump is also accused of obstruction of Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.
Trump, who is seeking another four-year term in the November 2020 presidential election, has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a "witch hunt".
At a raucous rally for his re-election in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House voted, Trump said the impeachment would be a "mark of shame" for Democrats and Pelosi, and cost them in the 2020 election.
"This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party," Trump said. "They're the ones who should be impeached, every one of them."
During the House debate on Wednesday, Pelosi read the US Pledge of Allegiance and said: "We are here to defend democracy for the people."
"If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president's reckless actions make impeachment necessary," Pelosi said.
Republicans said Democrats were driven by their anger over the outcome of the 2016 election.
"The matter before the House today is based solely on a fundamental hatred of our president. It's a sham, a witch hunt - and it's tantamount to a coup against the duly elected president of the United States," Republican Representative Mike Rogers said.
The abuse of power article was passed on a 230-197 vote and the obstruction article was passed by 229-198. All of the House Republicans opposed them, and two Democrats, Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew, voted no on both. Democrat Jared Golden voted against the obstruction charge, but for abuse of power.
US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, voted present on both articles, declaring in a statement: "I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no." She said she introduced a resolution for Trump's censure.
Trump's election has polarised the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they try to confront pressing challenges like the rise of China and climate change.
The impeachment vote comes ahead of Trump's re-election campaign, which will pit him against the winner among a field of Democratic contenders, including Biden, who have repeatedly criticized Trump's conduct in office and promised to make it a key issue.
"President Trump abused his power, violated his oath of office, and betrayed our nation," Biden said on Twitter after the vote, adding: "In the United States of America, no one is above the law — not even the president."
Reuters/Ipsos polls show that while most Democrats wanted to see him impeached, most Republicans did not. Televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart.