- Judiciary Committee Chairman kicked off the first prime-time impeachment hearing Wednesday night on Capitol Hill
- The point of the evening hearing was to allow every member of the House Judiciary Committee deliver a five-minute opening statement
- Rep. Doug Collins, the committee's top Republican, said the impeachment was as much of a surprise as the holiday season
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said President Trump could become a 'dictator' if his powers were left unchecked, while his GOP counterpart, Rep. Doug Collins, called impeachment 'the Big Lie.'
'If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all Congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive. And the president becomes a dictator,' Nadler warned in the opening moments of his committee's first prime-time impeachment hearing.
Following the pattern that would continue all night, Collins followed Nadler with a frenzied pushback against impeachment, labeling it 'The Big Lie.'
'What's the Big Lie? It's the one Democrats have told the American people for the last three years,' Collins said. 'The Big Lie is that the ends justify the means. The Big Lie is that a sham impeachment is OK because the threat is so great. The Big Lie is that political expedience is honorable and justifiable.'
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (left) and Republican ranking member Doug Collins (right) delivered remarks at the beginning of Wednesday night's impeachment hearing
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, stares into space in the opening moments of Wednesday night's impeachment hearing
On Tuesday, House Democrats announced they planned to pursue two articles of impeachment against Trump, with a full House vote likely happening in a little over a week.
The Wednesday night hearing was scheduled to give Judiciary Committee members the opportunity to deliver five-minute opening statements - with the floor flip-flopping between the two parties.
Nadler opened up the proceeding with an ask: that Republicans might join Democrats in impeachment.
'I hope every member of this Committee will withstand the political pressures of the moment,' Nadler begged. 'I hope that we are able to work together to hold this President - or any President - accountable for breaking his most basic obligations to the country and to its citizens.'
Nadler said he hoped that members wouldn't try to 'justify behavior that we know in our heart is wrong.'
'And while you think about that choice, please keep in mind that - one way or the other - President Trump will not be president forever,' Nadler continued. '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.'
'How would you be remembered?' Nadler asked.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee were gathered Wednesday night for the committee's first prime-time impeachment hearing
Several supporters of President Trump showed up to the Judiciary Committee hearing and wore their MAGA hats throughout the night
'They don't like us,' Rep. Jim Jordan said, blasting what he considered Democratic snobbery as he defended President Trump. Above Jordan is the sign Republicans brought criticizing Democratic leadership for being from New York and California
As Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks the Republicans' sign shaming Democrats for having leadership from only California and New York peeks out over his head
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, one of the most progressive Democratic voices on the House Judiciary Committee, listens as colleagues deliver their opening statements at an impeachment hearing Wednesday night
The New York Democrat said that with a 'heavy heart' he supported the president's impeachment.
Collins answered that by calling bull.
'We have spent all year in this committee trying to impeach this president,' Collins said.
He said it was as much of a surprise as the holiday season.
'It doesn't jump up and sneak up on you when you've been expecting it the whole time!' Collins said.
Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, also argued that Democrats have long been after Trump - pointing to several pop culture references.
'Then the genre of assassination and personal harm began with Kathy Griffin posing with a model of Trump's severed head, and actor Robert De Niro using his Tony Awards speech to say, "F--- Trump! I'd like to punch him in the face!"' Buck said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert operated at a louder decibel level than his colleagues.
During his five minutes, he got briefly emotional and the Texas Republican also shouted.
'I've sat through trials that were hard to sit through, but nothing like sitting this week in this committee hearing,' Gohmert said. 'Indeed, like Jefferson, I tremble that God is just and his justice won't sleep forever. But the abuses, the obstruction of Congress, has come from Congress.'
He charged Democrats for not wanting to bring in 'fact witnesses' while demanding Vice President Joe Biden and a laundry list of other officials needed to testify.
And Rep. Matt Gaetz put on his best movie-trailer-announcer voice during his turn.
'This is nothing more than the sloppy, straight-to-DVD Ukrainian sequel to the failed Russia hoax,' the Florida Republican said, sounding like a voice actor. 'If it seems like you've seen this movie before, it's because you have.'
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, characterized the Democrats' case as weak.
'This bar is so low that what is happening is that a future president can be impeached for any disagreement when the presidency and the House of Representatives are controlled by different parties,' he argued during his term.
There are 41 Judiciary Committee members, but Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrats, is absent due to illness.
On Wednesday night, the Republicans brought new signs - including one that labeled the Democratic committee chairs the 'Coastal Impeachment Squad' since they're from either California or New York.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, made his anti-impeachment argument along the same lines.
'They're never going to stop and it's not because they don't like the president ... they don't like us,' he said, speaking into the cameras to the Republican base. 'They don't like the 63 million people who voted for this president. All of us in flyover country. All of us common folk Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas.'
'They don't like us,' Jordan claimed.
Rep. David Cicciline, a Rhode Island Democrat, turned that argument on its head, suggesting Republicans were treating their constituents as if they were too dumb to understand what was going on.
'Wake up,' Cicciline told Republicans. 'Stop thinking about running for re-election, stop worrying about being primaried, stop deflecting and distracting and treating those you represent ... like they're not smart enough to realize that you are willfully ignoring the facts to protect a corrupt and dangerous president.'
Cicciline tried to lay out Democrats' case plainly.
'President Donald J. Trump wielded the enormous powers of the presidency to cheat in the 2020 election,' he said. 'If the president can cheat to win re-election the people lose their voice and he's no longer the president, he's a king.'
Cicciline then referenced how his home state of Rhode Island was first in pushing for independence from the British king.
Rep. Val Demmings, a Florida Democrat, also pointed to the era of the founding when she pushed for impeachment.
'George Washington was particularly concerned about unprincipled men finding their way into the White House,' she said. 'Well, those times have found us and we only have one option.'
Republicans have argued Democrats are trying to overturn the 2016 election while Democrats allege that the president with held nearly $400 million in aid to the Ukraine in order to pressure that country to investigate the Bidens and an unproven conspiracy theory that it was the Ukraine - and not Russia - that interfered in the 2016 election.
Lawmakers on the committee will return Thursday morning for the business at hand - offering amendments to the two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Any member of the committee can offer amendments.
And there are many ways to drag the process out - lawmakers can demand their amendments be read aloud (a process typically waved by a motion known as unanimous consent) and any lawmaker can object to any amendment.
Such moves would also have to be voted upon and any lawmaker can demand a roll call vote - another time consuming process.
Then the amendments themselves will be debated and given a final vote of approval or disapproval.
Given the partisan nature of impeachment the markup is expected to go long.
The markup of Bill Clinton’s articles of impeachment took three days.
After lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee finish their work, the articles of impeachment go to the Rules Committee, which sets the rules governing the debate on the House floor about the measure.
Then the articles go to the full House.
Democrats are on track to hold a vote in the full House next week - before they depart for the year - and then the approved articles will go to the Senate for trial.