LOS ANGELES: The Democratic US presidential candidates promised during a debate on Thursday (Dec 19) to make the case to a divided American public that the impeachment of President Donald Trump was necessary to protect the dignity and honor of the office.
The day after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, many of seven contenders taking part in the debate acknowledged that the American public is split over the move, with Republicans largely opposing it and Democrats favouring it. But they said it is a fundamental question of right and wrong.
"We cannot have a president with that temperament who is dishonouring the presidency of the United States," said US Senator Bernie Sanders, one of three senators in the debate who will sit as jurors in a trial of Trump in the Republican-led Senate that will determine whether he is removed from office.
In a historic vote on Wednesday, the Democratic-led House voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
Trump became only the third US president to be impeached by the House. No president has ever been removed from office via impeachment.
The Democratic candidates, who have all backed impeachment before, said they would try to convince the public of Trump's unsuitability for the office.
"We have to prosecute the case against him, and that means we need a candidate for president who can draw the sharpest distinction," said US Senator Elizabeth Warren, another juror in the trial due next month.
Democrats have pressed the Senate's Republican leaders to solicit testimony at the trial from Trump's top lieutenants like Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser.
"If President Trump thinks he should not be impeached, he should be not scared to put forward his own witnesses," US Senator Amy Klobuchar said.
With deep and widening partisan divisions in the United States, Biden made the case for the importance of Democrats being able to work with Republicans.
"I refuse to accept the notion - as some on this stage do - that we can never never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that's the case, we are dead as a country," Biden said.
"If anyone has reason to be angry with the Republicans and not want to cooperate it's me," Biden added. "They have attacked me and my son and my family. I have no love. But the fact is, we have to be able to get things done."
The debate was the sixth in the race to pick a Democratic challenger to Trump in the November 2020 election. The seven candidates taking part were the fewest since the debates began in the summer.
But the debate's timing, coming a week before the holidays and amid the impeachment fireworks in Washington, could reduce the audience and the benefits for the Democrats as they seek a boost ahead of the first state nominating contest in Iowa on Feb 3.
The race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains up for grabs seven weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa. There is a three-way battle at the top of national polls among Biden, Sanders and Warren, with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg rising to lead some polls in early voting states.
The number of candidates on stage was narrowed from 10 last month in Georgia, and 12 in October, by tougher polling and fundraising eligibility requirements.
In a party that prides itself on its diversity, the debate lineup has been criticized for being nearly all-white - Asian-American entrepreneur Andrew Yang is the only minority candidate to qualify.
"It's both an honor and a disappointment to be the only candidate of color on the stage," Yang said.