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Ahead of Trump impeachment vote, Republicans splinter

During Trump's first impeachment, literally zero House Republicans voted with Democrats. Today will be much different.
Image: House Republican Leadership Speaks To The Media After Conference Meeting
Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during a news conference with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, right, at the Capitol on July 21, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

House Democratic leaders established a plan late last week: members would vote first on a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the White House cabinet to remove Donald Trump from office. That vote was held late last night, and not surprisingly, the resolution passed, 223 to 205. No Democrats voted against it, and one House Republican -- Illinois' Adam Kinzinger -- voted for it.

Pence wasted little time in offering lawmakers his response: before the resolution had even passed, the vice president sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), explaining Pence's belief that removing Trump from office would not be in the nation's "best interest."

That, of course, opened the door to the next stage in the plan: a vote on impeaching Trump for "incitement of insurrection."

A growing number of Republican lawmakers publicly endorsed impeaching President Donald Trump ahead of a Wednesday vote in the House as the chamber passed a symbolic measure on Tuesday calling on Vice President Mike Pence to remove him first.... The article of impeachment is expected to pass in the Democratic-controlled House, which would make Trump the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.

Among the many extraordinary things about these circumstances is the way in which House GOP leaders are approaching today's impeachment vote. Ordinarily, we'd expect to see top House Republicans "whipping" their members ahead of such a significant vote -- which is to say, lobbying lawmakers to vote in line with their party's wishes. That's what happened the last time Congress took up Trump's impeachment, and it was generally assumed GOP leaders would do the same thing this week.

But they're not. Rank-and-file House Republicans were told this week that the impeachment vote would be a "vote of conscience." As of this morning, five House GOP members have announced plans to support Trump's impeachment, and no one would be surprised if that total grew ahead of this afternoon's vote.

The list includes Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the #3 leader in the House Republican conference, who said, in reference to Trump's conduct, that there had "never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States." (Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican and former prosecutor, deserves credit for being the first House GOP member to announce his support for impeaching Trump.)

During Trump's first impeachment, literally zero House Republicans voted with Democrats. What's more, there's a very real chance today's tally will set a record: in 1998, five House Democrats voted to impeach Bill Clinton, which was the highest number of votes ever cast for impeachment from members of the sitting president's party.

The landscape might look different for the GOP right now, but by all appearances, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) isn't making much of an effort to lead his party in any meaningful sense, and congressional Republicans aren't bothering to put up much of a defense for their party's president.

The chamber is scheduled to reconvene around 9 a.m. (eastern), with an impeachment vote expected this afternoon. Watch this space.