Trump Impeachment

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., left, beside Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., talks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

WASHINGTON — Two Louisiana congressmen made their mark on a series of increasingly contentious hearings this week on the attempt to impeach President Donald Trump.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton — both members of the influential House Judiciary Committee — found themselves on opposite ends of the fight over allegations that Trump leveraged foreign military aid for his own political gain.

Throughout the tense hearings, Democrats have sought to defend the decision to move forward with impeaching Trump, arguing he's put the nation's democracy at risk.

“Donald Trump said he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, but now he's shooting holes into the Constitution on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Richmond said during a hearing over what the articles of impeachment should include. “We cannot let him get away with it.”

Republicans have called the inquiry a "sham" and repeatedly posed questions, largely about the impeachment process.

“In our system, Congress doesn't get to remove a president just because they don’t like him,” Johnson argued in the same hearing. “They don’t get to just ignore the Constitution because they abhor his policies, his staff members or his manner of speaking.”

Trump is accused of temporarily withholding nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine in an attempt to get an announcement of an investigation into Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The House leadership has accused Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Johnson, who occasionally mentioned his Constitutional law background and frequently cited legal precedent, said the Democrats' case relies on "hearsay and conjecture that would not be admissible in a local traffic court." He and other Republicans have argued that the process has been rushed, a charge that Democrats deny.

“This is not a rush to judgment — it's a rush to justice and we must not delay,” Richmond said. “Corruption is corrosive and eats away like acid, and the longer we wait, the more time we allow for this president to do irreparable damage to our country.”

The hearings have seemingly grown more bitter by the hour and have dipped into personal attacks. The Judiciary Committee's vote sets up an anticipated vote on the House floor next week. If the Democrat-controlled chamber votes to impeach the president, the U.S. Senate would hold a trial to determine whether to convict and remove Trump from office. There is no indication the GOP-controlled chamber will do that.

“This is ridiculous," Johnson said after lambasting Democrats. "It’s a travesty of justice.”

Johnson said Trump has a track-record of trying to root out corruption — an argument Richmond fired back on.

“That’s just laughable on its face,” Richmond said. “If President Trump wanted to investigate corruption, he should start at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., look in the mirror or look around at the cast of criminals that have been indicted from his circle.”

While members of the Judiciary panel sparred over the merits of the case against Trump, U.S. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, spent Thursday afternoon “whipping” the impeachment vote, stressing to Republican members how important it is they stick together and vote the party line — a common legislative leadership tactic.

Scalise, a close ally of Trump, has made the rounds on cable television defending the president and had at least one meeting at the White House this week.

“Many of the top leaders in this Democrat majority have said that they were going to impeach the president. They wanted to use the majority to do that, and unfortunately they never were concerned about facts and actual impeachable offenses,” Scalise said.

He has said he doesn’t know of any members of the Republican caucus who plan to vote for impeachment.

Meanwhile, the House majority is taking a different tack, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said during her regular news conference Thursday.

“We’re not whipping this legislation, nor do we ever whip something like this,” Pelosi said. “This is a vote that people will have to come to their own conclusion on.”

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.