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Judiciary panel takes first steps toward impeachment vote

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee took the first steps Wednesday evening toward voting on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, beginning a marathon two-day session to consider the historic charges.

Democrats and Republicans on the panel used the prime-time hearing to make final arguments for and against impeachment. Both sides appealed to Americans’ sense of history — Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to hold the president in check, and Republicans decrying the process and what it means for the future of the country.

On Thursday, the committee will consider amendments and likely hold a final vote to send the articles to the House floor. The two articles of impeachment that Democrats introduced Tuesday charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his dealings with Ukraine.

The articles aren’t expected to be changed, though, as Democrats are unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump’s impeachment.

Democrats have already agreed to the language, which span only nine pages and say that Trump acted “corruptly” and “betrayed the nation” when he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election. Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.

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The Wednesday evening session of the 41-member panel is expected to last several hours, with opening statements from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened hearing to make a final argument for impeachment and to urge his Republican colleagues to reconsider. He said the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed these acts, if they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors and what the consequences are if they fail to act.

“When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?”

Republicans are also messaging to the American people — and to Trump himself — as they argue that the articles show Democrats are out to get the president. Most Republicans contend, as Trump does, that he has done nothing wrong, and all of them are expected to vote against the articles.

The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, argued that Democrats are impeaching the president because they think they can’t beat him in the 2020 election.

Democrats think the only thing they need is a “32-second commercial saying we impeached him,” Collins said.

“That’s the wrong reason to impeach somebody, and the American people are seeing through this,” Collins said. “But at the end of the day, my heart breaks for a committee that has trashed this institution.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said Democrats are impeaching because “they don’t like us,” and he read out a long list of Trump’s accomplishments.

“It’s not just because they don’t like the president, they don’t like us,” Jordan added. “They don’t like the 63 million people who voted for this president, all of us in flyover country, all of us common folk in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas.”

Republicans are expected to offer an array of amendments and make procedural motions, even if they know none of them will pass. The Judiciary panel is made up of some of the most partisan members on both sides, and Republicans will launch animated arguments in Trump’s defense.

Earlier Wednesday, Collins said the GOP would offer amendments but said they’d mainly be about allowing more time to debate.

“Remember, you can’t fix bad,” Collins said. “These are bad, you’re not going to fix it.”

In the formal articles announced Tuesday, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in “corrupting” the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America’s ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.

Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas for testimony and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.

Trump tweeted that to impeach a president “who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness.”

The House is expected to vote on the articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send them to the Senate for a 2020 trial.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would be “totally surprised″ if there were the necessary 67 votes in the chamber to convict Trump, and signaled options for a swift trial. He said no decision had been made about whether to call witnesses.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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