U.S. lawmakers began debating the evidence against President Donald Trump, a Republican, on Monday, as Democrats edged towards making formal charges over his efforts to pressure Ukraine and secure political favors.
At the beginning of the session on Capitol Hill, Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat and chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, repeatedly accused Trump of “putting himself before country” in his dealings with the eastern European country.
Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, said the Democrats had failed to make their case that Trump had sought to pressure Kiev to dig up dirt on a political rival, and that they were mostly acting out of dislike for Trump.
Then, Barry Berke, a lawyer for the Democrats on the judiciary committee, began laying out the case for impeaching Trump, referring back to witness testimonies that had been gathered during weeks of impeachment hearings in Washington.
Behind-closed-doors, Democrats are understood be debating exactly how to word the impeachment allegations against Trump, given that they are unlikely to persuade any Republicans to vote against a president with a devoted fan base.
A vote in the Democrat-run House in favor of impeachment could kickstart a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans and where a two-thirds vote of senators would be required to boot Trump out of the White House.
However, some analysts warn of the need for caution among Democrats, as the chances of securing an impeachment look slim, and the proceedings could serve to dent their own credibility while rallying support for Trump ahead of a fractious presidential election in 2020.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives launched impeachment proceedings against Trump on Sept. 24 following claims by a whistle-blower that the commander-in-chief had sought to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.
In a July 25 phone call, Trump allegedly made nearly $400 million military aid to help Ukraine fight Russian-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky contingent on a “quid pro quo” arrangement.
In return, Zelensky was supposed to open corruption probes into Joe Biden, a former U.S. Vice President, and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma, as well as into alleged Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
The elder Biden is a leading candidate in the race to win the Democratic nomination and challenge Trump in 2020. Trump, a Republican, has accused Democrats of time-wasting and says the inquiry amounts to a “witch hunt”.