In a historic move, Democrats announced on Tuesday two scaled down impeachment charges accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stressing risks to next year’s election.
But the Democrats handed Trump a political victory an hour after announcing the impeachment charges when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that her party would support a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that Trump had made a key election promise.
Announcing the two charges, House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said they amounted to “high crimes and treason’ and Trump violated his oath of office to protect the Constitution when he wanted Ukraine to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for his electoral benefit.”
Trump called the impeachment “sheer political madness.”
The new trade agreement, which will require Congress approval, will replace the earlier agreement reached during Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency known as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Democrats had initially attacked Trump’s attempt to alter NAFTA.
A rare case of Republicans and Democrats negotiating successfully despite the divide, Trump can claim that the new agreement will help his base of workers because of globalization and farmers.
Although bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice and, even, treason had been talked about by Democrats during the impeachment inquiry, these don’t find a place in the impeachment charges, which were narrowed apparently to what they believe they have a strong case for.
After the entire Democrat-controlled House of Representatives votes on the Articles of Impeachment with these two accusations next week, the charge-sheet will be sent to the Republican-controlled Senate for a formal trial, presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The impeachment process with high drama on and off camera will end up with no real action against Trump, serving only as a campaign mechanism for the Democrats and a catharsis for the pent up anger against Trump.
Only two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 2018, have been impeached before, but both were acquitted by the Senate.
Richard Nixon resigned in the middle of the impeachment process.
Speaking before him at the first news conference Pelosi said the impeachment was a “solemn duty” of Congress and it had to act because the 2020 election was at risk of foreign interference.
“When Trump betrays the public trust and puts himself before country, he endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy, and he endangers our national security,” she said.
Nadler said Trump used public office for private benefit by asking a foreign country to investigate his political rival, risking national security by withholding military aid worth about $400 million when Ukraine was facing threats from Russia.
It amounted to abuse of power and blocking the release of documents and testimonies by officials requested by the House inquiries was obstruction of justice, Nadler said.
The Democrats were gearing up for impeachment from the very day of Trump’s election and pinned their hope on proving he colluded with the Russians. But the inquiry by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no such collusion dashing Democrat hopes.
Trump’s phone call to newly elected Ukraine President Volodymyr in which he asked for investigations into the Bidens as a “favor” was picked up by the Democrats.
Since Biden is the front-runner for Democratic Party nomination to run against Trump, Democrats say this amounts to getting a foreign government involved in the 2020 election.
Bidens son, who was removed from the navy amid drug allegations and has no experience in the energy business, was given a directorship in a Ukraine gas company with a monthly payment of $83,000 and then Vice-President intervened to have a prosecutor looking into the company fired.
Biden has said he had the prosecutor fired because he was corrupt.
The impeachment drama unfolds between a deeply polarized nation where support for impeachment has only a 4 per cent lead.
While the overwhelming majority of the Democrat Representatives were for impeachment, some who come from the constituencies that had historically been pro-Republican were concerned that impeaching him may affect them politically.
This was another reason for Pelosi and Nadler to narrow the charges against Trump.
The support for the new US-Canada-Mexico trade deal is an attempt by the Democrat leadership to show that the party also backs what it considers positive steps to help workers and trade, even if it is initiated by Trump, who can claim a victory.
The new agreement, known as US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will enhance the terms of trade in the US favour in some respects, while tightening labour and environment laws, allowing cheaper pharmaceutical into the US and ensuring enforcement of the deal.
Republicans, who complained that their demands for calling witnesses and on procedures were blocked by Democrats during he impeachment process, will now be able to have their way in Congress.