House inches closer to historic impeachment vote; Rules Committee decides on 6 hours of debate

The terms of the House debate are being considered by the House Rules Committee.

December 17, 2019, 3:52 PM

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday began the next procedural step before a full House vote Wednesday on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

The small panel is tasked with preparing legislation and setting the terms for debate on the House floor.

In one big decision, the committee decided late Tuesday to debate the articles of impeachment in the full House for six hours Wednesday. That would put a vote on track for late in the afternoon or early evening.

This was the first time in American history that the House Rules Committee, which is traditionally used by the speaker to control the floor schedule of the chamber, has ever taken up impeachment.

House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump, Dec. 17, 2019, on Capitol Hill.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The committee, which can hear testimony from any member of the House, spent much of Tuesday huddled in their hearing room on the top floor of the U.S. Capitol with Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass. After dozens of hours of hearings and testimony, Tuesday's hearing was the last opportunity for House Republicans and Democrats to spar over the charges before they're taken up on the floor.

"No one should be allowed to use the powers of the presidency to undermine our elections or cheat in a campaign. No matter who it is. And no matter their party," McGovern said at the start of Tuesday's hearing. "Today we’ll put a process in place to consider these articles on the House Floor. And when I cast my vote in favor, my conscience will be clear."

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is addressing the panel about the impeachment articles.

McGovern asked him: "Was the call perfect?" referring to the president's call with Ukraine's president, during which Trump pressured him to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

"There was nothing wrong with the call," Collins answered.

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) before a meeting of the house committee on rules to consider H. Res. 755 Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors on Capitol Hill, Dec. 17, 2019.
Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Another Republican, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said: "There’s no way this can and should be viewed as legitimate. ... The majority is seeking to remove the president for something that didn't happen."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., is making the Democratic case, in place of Chairman Nadler, who will miss the hearing as a result of a family emergency.

"We believe this conduct is impeachable and shouldn’t take place ... under our constitutional system," Raskin said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD, speaks during a meeting of a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump, Dec. 17, 2019, on Capitol Hill.
Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Raskin said the crime is "in progress, up to this very minute," citing the latest activities by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The panel will determine how much time the House spends debating both articles on Wednesday, ahead of a vote that will send the charges to the Senate to tee up a trial early next year.

The vote in the Democrat-controlled House is expected to pass once brought to the floor.

President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable with governors on government regulations in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Dec. 16, 2019.
Evan Vucci/AP

The House Judiciary Committee voted on Dec. 13 along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

As the House prepared to vote, more than half of the Democrats from districts won by President Donald Trump in 2016 are planning to back impeachment.

At least 17 Trump-district House Democrats have announced plans to vote for articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the Ukraine affair.

Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, one of those Democrats from a Trump-won district, faced jeers at a town hall Monday after announcing her decision to support impeachment. Fellow freshmen Max Rose, of New York, and Elaine Luria, of Virginia, are also among that group.

Another 13 have not officially stated their position, or responded to ABC News requests for comment on how they plan to vote.

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