The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night began the "markup" process for the two articles of impeachment against President Trump that they have settled on, barreling toward a final floor vote even as moderate Democrats have floated the idea of backing down in favor of a censure resolution.
Almost immediately, the evening proceedings broke out into fiery disagreement, as the panel's top Democrat declared that it would be unsafe to wait until the 2020 election to remove Trump, while the ranking Republican slammed Democrats for attacking Ukraine's leader because he undercut their case against Trump.
"We cannot rely on an election to solve our problems, when the president threatens the very integrity of that election," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in his opening statement, claiming Trump's discussions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Joe and Hunter Biden's lucrative dealings in the country, and the White House's temporary withholding of military aid to Ukraine, constituted an "urgent" threat to national security.
"This committee now owes it to the American people to give these articles careful attention," Nadler said at the beginning of the markup for the impeachment articles, which included obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.
Nadler said there were three key questions for Congress to evaluate: whether the evidence clearly showed that Trump committed the acts alleged in his dealings with Ukraine, whether the acts rose to the impeachment standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors," and what the consequences for national security were if Congress failed to act.
The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, shot back that Democrats have been trying to impeach Trump since he took office. He echoed the White House's argument that the impeachment was politically motivated theater, long in the works and foreshadowed openly by Democrats for months, if not years.
Collins noted that Zelensky has denied Trump ever pressured him, and that Democrats then turned on Zelensky to call him a "liar." Collins went on to slam the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for hosting a hearing with three anti-Trump law professors with no personal knowledge of any relevant conduct by the president; Republicans invited one professor of their own.
The late-night markup session marked something of a doubleheader for Congress, after Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz's testimony dominated most of the day. The night is expected to consist mostly of opening statements, before the markup adjourns and resumes at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday.
In markup sessions, representatives typically fine-tune legislation or other resolutions, offering amendments, debating, and settling on final language.
Fox News expects Wednesday night's session to last until approximately 10:30 p.m. ET, or even later if the 41-member panel were to start debating the articles of impeachment or to try amending them. Each member would be entitled to 5 minutes of speaking time, and Republicans might try to delay the proceedings.
But, the committee likely will do most of the heavy lifting on Thursday, and vote the articles out of committee – sending them to the House floor for consideration. Then, it would be up to the House to schedule the articles for the House floor, likely the middle of next week.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called for impeachment, after months of hedging. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The rapid pace has come as numerous polls showed declining support for impeachment in key swing states. For example, impeachment and removal was opposed by 50.8 percent of voters in Michigan, 52.2 percent of voters in Pennsylvania, and 57.9 percent of voters in Wisconsin, according to the Firehouse/Optimus December Battleground State Poll.
Two other polls released Wednesday confirmed that most Americans did not want Trump impeached and removed.
Politico reported earlier this week that the numbers were making a "small group" of moderate Democrats, who have held seats in districts where Trump won in 2016, nervous about how to vote. They instead have suggested Trump be censured instead, which would prevent the GOP from holding a potentially damaging Senate trial and give them political cover in the upcoming election.
But, hardline Democrats in safe districts haven't budged. California Rep. Karen Bass, for example, said Wednesday that she's open to impeaching Trump again even if he wins the 2020 election.
The House is now comprised of 431 members, meaning Democrats would need 217 yeas to impeach Trump. There are currently 233 Democrats, so Democrats could lose only 16 of their own and still impeach the president. Among the House Democrats, 31 represent more moderate districts that Trump carried in 2016.
"This is the other side of it being political — you’ve got about 30 House Democrats who are in districts won by Donald Trump and they realize that they are going to pay a political price if they go along with impeachment," Fox News contributor Charles Hurt, the opinion editor of The Washington Times, told "Fox & Friends" Wednesday.
Freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich. — who flipped a GOP district in 2018 that Trump won by 7 points in 2016 — told Fox News last month that she was tentatively weighing all the evidence. On Wednesday, she confirmed that she's still undecided.
"The phones are ringing off the hook," she told CNN. "We literally can't pick up the phones fast enough — and it's people on both sides of it."
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.