Washington, Dec 13: Democrats set a vote on impeachment charges against President Donald Trump for Friday after a frequently caustic 14-hour debate with Republicans over the US leader's alleged misconduct in seeking political support from Ukraine.
In a shock late-night end to a marathon hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Chairman Jerry Nadler abruptly postponed a final vote on the two articles of impeachment, saying he wanted to give committee members time to "search their conscience" over the evidence presented against the US leader.
Surprised Republicans bitterly accused Nadler of running a "kangaroo court," but Democrat Jamie Raskin said they did not want to be accused of taking such a momentous action against the president in the dead of night.
"We wanted to do it in broad daylight so everybody can see exactly what's going on," he told CNN after the debate.
The move came after 14 hours of argument broadcast live which served to underscore the deep political divide of the country.
Republicans sought one after another to shoot down allegations that Trump violated his oath of office in pressuring Ukraine to help him against his Democratic rivals, particularly former vice president Joe Biden, who could face Trump in next year's presidential election.
They accused Democrats of failing to produce evidence and of acting on strictly political motives and "hate" for Trump. And they sought to turn the debate into a hearing on Biden's son, who had served on the board of a Ukraine energy company.
"You can't beat him in an election, you're not going to beat him in reelection, so now you have set up impeachment," said Republican Congressman Andy Biggs.
"At the end of the day, you don't have the facts for your case," declared Guy Reschenthaler.
But Democrats each time returned the focus to Trump's own behavior and a large body of testimony which they said proved he gravely violated the US Constitution and continues to threaten the integrity of the 2020 elections.
"There is plenty of evidence of the president's wrongdoing," said Democratic Representative Mary Gay Scanlon.
"I don't know what more you can ask for here. You've got admissions from the president, you've got corroboration from people he's appointed. The only thing you can do is stick your head in the sand if you are not willing to see what has happened here," she said.
"By abusing his power, he endangered our elections and our national security. He remains an ongoing threat to both. ...he's threatening to do it again."
Nadler scheduled a vote on the two impeachment articles against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of justice, for 10 AM (1500 GMT) Friday.
The result is not in doubt: Democrats hold a strong majority on the committee and are expected to vote unanimously to pass them, while Republicans will stick together in opposition.
The articles will then be sent to the entire House for a final vote Wednesday.
Should the Democratic-majority chamber vote against Trump as predicted, he will become only the third US president to be impeached and placed on trial in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed concerns that a handful of moderate Democrats could defect and oppose impeachment, in part because they fear voters will turn against them in the November 2020 election.
"People will vote the way they vote," she said.
In the Judiciary Committee debate, which officially began Wednesday night, Republicans would not budge in their support of Trump, refusing to accept any of the allegations of wrongdoing.
Instead, they accused Democrats of rushing the investigation and other procedural issues.
"They're all afraid that they can't beat him at the ballot box, so they're going to do this rigged, rushed and wrong impeachment process," said Republican Jim Jordan.
But Democrats said they were moving quickly because Trump unchecked would continue to flout election laws.
They noted that his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was deeply involved in pressuring Ukraine, was back in Kiev last weekend seeking dirt on Biden.
"We have a constitutional duty to hold the president accountable. He will be held accountable, said Democrat Val Deming.
Both sides were already readying for a trial of Trump in the Senate, where he is protected by a solid Republican majority.
"There is zero chance that the president will be removed from office," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News late Thursday.
Trump has signalled to aides that he wants a full-throated defense in the Senate, with witnesses testifying live.
But Republican leaders, mindful of political fallout, indicated they would rather not see the process turn into a drawn-out spectacle.