World

Trump impeachment debate opens with fiery partisan battle

But Republicans fiercely defend president's record at opening of impeachment debate

WASHINGTON: Democrats warned that US President Donald Trump was on the verge of dictatorship while Republicans fiercely defended his record at the opening of a stormy, historic debate on impeachment charges on Wednesday.

The parties held tightly to diametrically opposed views of Mr Trump as they weighed articles of impeachment at the beginning of a two-day debate.

Mr Trump is alleged to have wielded the power of the presidency for personal and political gain by pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 US election.

There is little question about the outcome in the House Judiciary Committee: by the end of the week the majority-Democrat panel is expected to approve the charges and send them to the House of Representatives for passage next week.

But lawmakers in the televised hearing appeared focused on speaking to voters, whose sentiment will be crucial if, as expected, Mr Trump goes on trial in the US Senate next month.

In a grave voice, Democratic committee chairman Jerry Nadler opened the hearing.

"Today we begin consideration of two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump," he said.

"Taken together, the two articles charge President Trump with placing his private political interests above our national security, above our free and fair elections, and above our ability to hold public officials accountable," he said.

"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."

Mr Doug Collins, the senior Republican on the committee, argued that Democrats had been seeking to impeach Mr Trump ever since he came into office in January 2017, and have no clear case beyond "abuse of power".

"It's just generic vague statements," Mr Collins said.

"You go home and pick something you don't like about the president, and there's your abuse of power."

Most indications are that the Republican majority in the Senate will ultimately protect Mr Trump from conviction and removal.

At a political rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, he ridiculed the charges.

"Everybody said, 'This is impeachment light'," Mr Trump said, adding "there are no crimes" and Democrats are just trying to win the next election. - AFP

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