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Prime Time History: House Impeaches President Trump

Following daylong, partisan, and sometimes personal, floor speeches, the House voted in prime time to impeach President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

There were two separate votes on the two articles: On abuse of power, the vote was 230 to 197; on obstruction of Congress, the vote was 229 to 198.

On the abuse of power article, despite what Democrats called overwhelming evidence favoring impeachment, no Republican broke ranks to vote for impeachment while two Democrats joined with Republicans to vote against impeachment and one voted "present." C-SPAN identified the "present" as Hawaii Democrat and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Initially there had been one Republican vote for impeachment, according to the running tally, but that was changed before the final vote was declared.

On obstruction of Congress, three Democrats voted against impeachment and Gabbard again voted "present." The lone independent voted for impeachment on both articles. "Present" counts neither for nor against.

C-SPAN reported that while the Democrats were using their electronic voting cards, Republicans were registering their votes with the clerk in person. Both votes took more than the allotted 15 minutes (abuse of power) and 5 minutes (obstruction of Congress), but that is not unusual.

Related: Trump Says Impeachment Is Attempted Coup

The Republican-controlled Senate will hold a trial--likely starting in January, though there were some reports Wednesday that the House could hold up sending the articles over to that side of the Hill. The Senate trial will be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The Senate will then vote on whether to remove Trump from office. Only two other Presidents have been impeached--Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson--and neither were convicted/removed.

The debate Wednesday (Dec. 18) was covered live by the major broadcast and cable networks, with TV stations juggling coverage with local news and syndicated fare as Democrats essentially repeated the charges against the President, the evidence they had for it, and invoked their oaths to uphold the constitution, while Republicans accused them of trying to reverse an election they didn't win with evidence they didn't have against a President they didn't like.

The President was not shy in his review of the proceedings, tweeting during the debate:


The vote, which came in prime time, followed more than eight hours of back-and-forth, with neither side giving an inch on their respective positions for and against the President.

CBS and ABC cut away at 8 p.m. to regular programming just as the sides were summing up, then during the voting, with NBC sticking with its impeachment coverage, CBS, perhaps presciently given that the Senate is highly unlikely to convict, cut to Survivor, while ABC went to its already-scheduled latest live, back-to-back, recreations of Norman Lear classics, All in the Family and an election-themed episode of Good Times. CBS cut back to its special report following the second vote.

Meanwhile, live coverage of the vote on NBC and Fox News Channel included a split screen of Trump at a rally in the appropriately named Battle Creek, Mich., even as the vote was being tallied and the President's battle with Democrats raged back in Washington.

During their turn at the lectern, Republicans essentially echoed the President's arguments that he did nothing impeachable, that Democrats had been angling to impeach him since Inauguration day, and that the rushed, rigged sham of a process conducted by impeachment "zealots" was ripping the Republic apart at the seams.

Democrats said Republicans were putting comfort before courage, betraying their oaths of office by toeing the party line and protecting a President they knew had betrayed his oath and by ignoring the incontrovertible evidence of impeachable offenses. They said the Republicans were echoing the President's "dangerous nonsense" that the impeachment process was not constitutional.

Democrats' speeches rang repeatedly with the phrase "no one is above the law" and Benjamin Franklin's admonition that the U.S. had a Republic, "if you can keep it."

There were also innumerable invocations of the founding fathers on both sides, particularly Democrats and the newly hip Alexander Hamilton's warnings about the corrupting influence of foreign powers. A repeated Republican line was that with a bar this low, George Washington could have been impeached.

Related: Impeachment: Speaker Pelosi Rejects C-SPAN Request for Own Cameras

One of the more personal moments came when Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) was accused of spouting Russian propaganda. He could be heard shouting his displeasure in the background because the floor time was not his to use at the time.

Amidst the cacophony of political partisanship, there was a moment of silence--perhaps inadvertently in memory of the death of civility--when a Republican said he was going to enumerate all the impeachable offenses of the President, followed by silence until the acting speaker gaveled his 30 seconds to a close.

Democrats were "branded" pro-abortion socialists and likened to Communist hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy. Republicans were accused of putting politics above love of country and the Constitution.

Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia arguably got the "colorful phraseology" award for his framing of the Republican arguments. He said that in 2016, he and 63 million others had raised their collective political middle fingers to D.C. and elected Donald Trump, and now the "swamp critters" in that "godforsaken place" were trying to remove their voice from office.

Each side said the other's position would not reflect well in the light of history.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been ridiculed by some Republicans, including the President, for saying she was approaching impeachment "prayerfully," but one Republican offered a prayer of his own. More than one Republican compared, the impeachment of the President to the persecution of Christ. One likened it to Jesus' treatment at the hands of Pontius Pilate, while another ended his speech with a prayer of sorts aimed at Democrats: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) invoked another image. He said that impeachment, "like a tin can tied to his leg, will rattle behind [President Trump] through the pages of history." 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.