WASHINGTON: Donald Trump was faced on Wednesday (Dec 18) with becoming the third impeached president in US history as a bitterly divided House of Representatives headed for a vote on whether he abused his power.
The 73-year-old Trump accused Democrats of waging an "assault on America" as lawmakers delivered impassioned floor speeches for and against impeaching the president.
The House, where Democrats hold 233 seats to the Republicans' 197, is expected to approve two articles of impeachment - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - after debate lasting much of the day.
That would set up a January trial in the Senate, where Trump's Republicans hold a 53-47 seat edge, making his removal from office unlikely.
The stark partisan split over impeaching the convention-wrecking chief executive was on display from the very start of the solemn proceedings on the House floor.
"It is tragic that the president's reckless actions make impeachment necessary," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her opening remarks, which were greeted with applause by fellow Democrats.
"He gave us no choice," Pelosi said. "The president is an ongoing threat to our national security, and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy."
Massachusetts Democrat Lori Trahan said the case against Trump was clear.
"The facts are black and white," Trahan said. "President Trump abused the power of his office for personal and political gain and then he engaged in a cover-up."
Doug Collins, a Republican lawmaker from Georgia, countered that "the president did nothing wrong."
Democrats are seeking to impeach Trump because they are afraid to face him in the November 2020 presidential election, Collins said.
"They said we can't beat him if we don't impeach him," he said. "The American people will see through this."
Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Arizona, said Trump was the victim of "the most unfair, politically biased rigged process that I have seen in my entire life.
"There is no proof, none, that the president has committed an impeachable offense," Lesko said.
READ: On Capitol Hill, protesters clamour for Trump impeachment
ASSAULT ON AMERICA
The bitter polarisation in the House is reflected in recent opinion polls.
Fifty per cent of the respondents in a Fox News poll said they support impeaching and removing Trump from office. Forty-one per cent opposed impeachment.
In a CNN poll, 45 per cent said Trump should be impeached and removed while 47 per cent said he should not.
Trump is accused of withholding military assistance to try to force Ukraine to open a corruption probe into one of his 2020 rivals, Democrat Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The president is also accused of obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, barring staff from testifying and holding back documentary evidence.
Facing the biggest political crisis yet of his tumultuous three years in office, Trump adopted his usual tone of fiery defiance.
Arguably the most polarising US leader in living memory, Trump spent the first part of the day holed up at the White House, sending out tweets reflecting his frustration, anger and predictions of revenge in the 2020 election.
"THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!" Trump wrote.
"Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing."
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told AFP that Trump would be "working all day.
"He will be briefed by staff throughout that day, and could catch some of the proceedings between meetings."
Later Trump was flying to the electoral swing state of Michigan for a rally with thousands of his most loyal supporters - possibly right around the time of the House vote.
Although impeachment will put an ugly asterisk by Trump's name in the history books - alongside Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 - he predicts the scandal will galvanize his base in next year's election.
On the eve of impeachment, he wrote an extraordinary six-page letter to Pelosi accusing her of an "attempted coup", a "charade" and treating him less fairly than at a witch trial.
Pelosi has tried to show she is taking the high road in a saga that has seen both sides, and especially Trump himself, repeatedly accuse opponents of everything from treason to stupidity.
But she dropped her icy demeanor after Trump published his lengthy letter, much of which read like an extended version of his stream-of-consciousness tweets.
The letter was "really sick," Pelosi said.
Protests in support of impeachment were held in several cities including New York, Boston, New Orleans and Los Angeles and as the House debate got underway, demonstrators rallied outside making their views clear in giant red letters spelling out the word "IMPEACH."