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Trump faces historic rebuke as House votes on impeachment

[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump's legacy will be forever marked on Wednesday by his impeachment at the hands of House Democrats, who say it's a necessary rebuke for the president's pursuit of a political vendetta. On the eve of the vote, Mr Trump defiantly rejected the move as a predetermined partisan assault.

Mr Trump is all but certain to become the third US president in history to be impeached when lawmakers gather Wednesday in the well of the House, as their predecessors did when they voted to impeach Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

But the president has managed to unite the Republican party fully behind him, and it's unlikely that anyone in the GOP will join Democrats in voting for his removal. Nor is there any sign that Senate Republicans are considering convicting him when they hold a trial next year.

The day will unfold like this: After the House is gaveled in about 9am,  lawmakers will debate for six hours before two votes, one on each article of impeachment. One charge is abuse of power, based on Mr Trump's efforts to force Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family. The other is obstruction of Congress, based on Mr Trump's refusal to allow aides to testify or to respond to subpoenas for documents.

Both articles are expected to be adopted on mostly partisan lines, as vote tallies from the Associated Press and New York Times show a majority of House members in support.

Mr Trump fired off an angry, six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, saying the impeachment vote would backfire and fuel his re-election bid.

"Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment - against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle - is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America's Constitutional order," Mr Trump wrote. "Our Founders feared the tribalisation of partisan politics, and you are bringing their worst fears to life."

Mr Trump contributed language and direction in the drafting of the letter, according to people familiar with the matter. White House aides, including Stephen Miller, were involved, as were Counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Pat Philbin.

Pelosi, in her own letter to lawmakers on Tuesday, wrote that their oaths "make us custodians of the Constitution."

"If we do not act, we will be derelict in our duty," she said.

Shortly after he's impeached, Trump is expected to issue a public rebuttal at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, a traditionally Democratic stronghold that helped win him the White House in 2016.

Voters are split on whether Trump should be removed from office, with about 47% in favor and 48% opposed, according to polling data aggregated by RealClearPolitics.

‘Defend Our Democracy'

Democrats' first article of impeachment finds Mr Trump abused the power of his office by withholding military assistance from Ukraine and pressuring President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens. The second article finds that Mr Trump obstructed Congress's inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine, including by directing White House employees to defy lawmakers' subpoenas to testify.

After Wednesday's votes, a Democratic delegation will formally deliver the articles of impeachment to the secretary of the Senate, the first step toward a trial in that chamber to determine whether Mr Trump will be removed from office.

Under the Constitution, conviction and removal from office requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, a near-impossible outcome in the Republican-controlled chamber. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will hold the trial early next year and that he favors an expeditious process.

"History is testing us. We can't control what the Senate will do. But each of us can decide whether we pass that test – whether we defend our democracy, and whether we uphold our oath," Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the House Rules Committee, said during a hearing Tuesday.

Almost all House Democrats say they will vote to impeach. No House Republicans are expected to break ranks by voting against the president, fully tying their political fortunes to Mr Trump in their 2020 races.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise predicted defections among moderate Democrats, who he asserted were "scared to death" of the political fallout from the impeachment effort.

"This will be a stain on Nancy Pelosi's legacy," Scalise said in an interview Wednesday morning with Fox Business Network.

Charm Offensive

More than nine in 10 self-described Republicans in a newly released CNN poll said Mr Trump should not be impeached and removed, while 78 per cent said it is unlikely that anything will come up at a subsequent Senate trial that would change their mind.

The White House has led a charm offensive throughout the fall to keep GOP lawmakers close. A select group of House Republicans were invited to Camp David last weekend, according to a person familiar with the matter, one of several similar visits the White House has arranged for his congressional allies.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump tweeted endorsements for several congressional Republicans, including Representative Kay Granger of Texas, Denver Riggleman of Virginia, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Buddy Carter of Georgia. A person familiar with the matter said the White House legislative affairs office has recently approached Republicans facing competitive primary elections and promised the president's support, including tweeted endorsements, even if their voting records aren't 100 per cent in line with the White House.

Rather than focus on defending Mr Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine, many House Republicans have instead criticised the impeachment process as a politically motivated effort by Democrats who have been determined to oust Mr Trump since his first day in office. The president's approval rating among GOP voters has remained around 90 per cent since his inauguration.

Only two Democrats, Representatives Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, have said they are voting against impeachment. Mr Van Drew is considering switching political parties, according to several news reports.

Pressure Campaigns

The White House and its allies are still seeking to pressure vulnerable Democrats before the Wednesday vote, targeting the 31 House members who won election in 2018 in districts that Mr Trump had won in 2016.

Outside conservative groups are urging supporters to inundate those moderate Democrats' offices with calls and social media messages opposing impeachment and to show up at town hall meetings.

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said her group is part of a broader coalition called "Fight Impeachment Now," which is made up of other national and local conservative organizations. She said they will continue their activities through a Senate trial.

"Our focus has been on being a force multiplier for those on Capitol Hill defending the president in this impeachment witch hunt," she said in a phone interview.

The president's campaign on Tuesday released its own polling that it said shows "impeachment is seriously endangering" Trump-district Democrats. The survey found that 53 per cent of about 900 likely voters across 30 of the contested districts oppose impeachment, with a margin of error of about 3.27 percentage points.

"People will remember how those Democrats spent their time and the taxpayer's money, which is a big waste," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday on Fox News.