WASHINGTON — For only the third time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives has impeached a sitting president.
On Wednesday, the House voted almost entirely along party lines to pass two articles of impeachment accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his attempts to get Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was one of a handful of Democratic holdouts — the only one to just vote “present,” which amounts to abstaining from a vote.
Two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted no on the abuse of power article. They were joined by Maine Rep. Jared Golden in opposing the obstruction of Congress charge.
Gabbard, a long-shot candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who has announced she is not running for reelection, released a statement emailed from her presidential campaign.
“After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 658-page impeachment report, I came to the conclusion that I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no,” Gabbard said. “I am standing in the center and have decided to vote Present. I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing.”
In her statement, she blasted both parties.
“On the one side — The president’s defenders insist that he has done nothing wrong. They agree with the absurd proclamation that his conduct was “perfect.” They have abdicated their responsibility to exercise legitimate oversight, and instead blindly do the bidding of their party’s leader, she said.
“On the other side — the president’s opponents insist that if we do not impeach, our country will collapse into dictatorship. All but explicitly, they accuse him of treason. Such extreme rhetoric was never conducive to an impartial fact-finding process.”
Gabbard has positioned herself as a maverick within her own party. When Barack Obama was president she was unafraid to criticize his foreign policy, particularly on U.S. actions in Syria. This independent streak — and willingness to attack her own party — endeared her to the political right, and has made her a darling of conservative talk show hosts, such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
Similarly, she bucked the establishment in 2016 when she gave up her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to support U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.
Congressman Ed Case, a Democrat, voted with his party to impeach the president on both articles.
The vote on the first article, abuse of power, was 230 in favor, 197 against, with Gabbard voting present. The vote on the second article was 218 in favor, 162 against and Gabbard again voting present.
The Republican-controlled Senate, which will hold the impeachment trial sometime next year, is expected to acquit the president.
Gabbard and Case couldn’t have approached the day much differently.
Case cleared his schedule to make sure he was on the House floor for every vote, whether it was procedural or to approve the two articles of impeachment. He didn’t want to miss any of the debate, even though many of the arguments were simply rehashed from prior House hearings.
“I owe it to the people I represent to be fully part of the entirety of the debate,” Case said in an interview with Civil Beat during a break in voting. “It’s obviously an incredibly important day for our country in the scope of our history. I didn’t come here looking to be part of this day, but I am. So my responsibilities are completely to the country and to the Constitution.”
Gabbard, meanwhile, was a no-show at the beginning. Her whereabouts were a mystery in the lead-up to the decision to impeach the president. The congresswoman was one of only a handful of representatives who missed all four votes Wednesday morning that preceded a six-hour debate on the House floor.
Gabbard’s office communications director Haig Hovsepian said he had not seen Gabbard at all Wednesday, but he was in contact with her via phone. When asked if he knew if she would vote on the articles of impeachment he shrugged and said he couldn’t say one way or the other.
Gabbard did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for an interview.
The congresswoman dodged most questions about impeachment in the lead up to Wednesday’s vote, saying at recent campaign events that she was still “undecided” on how she would vote.
On Tuesday, the congresswoman introduced a resolution calling to censure Trump as an alternative to impeachment. The tactic was deployed by others in her party, mainly vulnerable Democrats representing districts Trump won in 2016, but didn’t gain any traction. Gabbard’s resolution had zero co-sponsors.
Her office also didn’t release any details about the resolution until after Wednesday’s vote.
Case didn’t have any pretensions that he would be able to sway the minds of any of his Republican colleagues on a day in which the vote split was almost entirely along party lines.
All he would say was that he hoped each member went through the same thorough analysis as he did by reading the investigative record, surveying their constituents and considering the founders’ intent when they drafted the Constitution.
He said he also hoped that his colleagues asked themselves the same three questions: What are your duties? What are your loyalties? And what is your place in history?
“I’m very comfortable and certain that I’m doing the right thing given the place that I find myself in today,” he said.
The Republican-controlled Senate will have final say on whether to remove the president from office, but are widely expected to acquit Trump.
Hawaii Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono say they plan to weigh the evidence that’s put before them even though both are strident opponents of Trump.
Schatz in particular has said Trump is “possibly the worst president ever.”
“It is a somber time for our country, but one our founders specifically contemplated when they gave Congress the authority to impeach a president,” Schatz said in a written statement issued shortly after the House vote.
Still, he said he wants to be a fair juror and will continue to study the facts as those come forth as well as the legal and constitutional history of impeachment.
Hirono was the first member of Hawaii’s delegation to publicly call for an impeachment inquiry into Trump after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released the findings of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice. But she said she will focus on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Hirono said it seems clear that Trump was trying to “rig” the upcoming election to hurt former Vice President Joe Biden, a top Democratic contender who could face off against him 2020. There were also national security implications, she said, in regards to withholding funds from Ukraine, a U.S. ally against Russia.
“This is serious business and I take it as such,” Hirono said. “That’s why I’ve said several times that I want the president to mount his defense if he has one.”
“But,” she added, “a defense is not calling this a witch hunt or a conspiracy theory. That’s not evidence.”
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