Defiant in the face of a historic impeachment vote against him, President Donald Trump rallied supporters in Michigan, declaring, “it doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached”.
Mr Trump took the stage on Wednesday night (local time) just minutes before he became the third president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.
“Through their depraved actions today, crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame,” he told the adoring crowd.
“It really is – it’s a disgrace, Democrats. Lawmakers do not believe you have the right to select your own president.”
Wednesday’s vote on the first article of impeached, accusing Mr Trump of abuse of power, passed by 230-197. All but two Democrats voted in favour, and all Republicans voted against.
Within 15 minutes, a House majority also backed impeachment on the second article, concerning the obstruction of Congress.
Mr Trump is only the third US president to be impeached, after Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson back in 1868. Wednesday’s historic vote came 21 years to the day after Mr Clinton’s 1998 impeachment.
House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, argued that Mr Trump had left them with “no choice” but to impeach him.
“If we do not act now we would be derelict in our duty,” she said.
“It is tragic that the President’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary.”
In a dramatic contrast to events in Washington, Mr Trump emerged from a mock fireplace at the Christmas-themed rally in Battle Creek.
He took time to praise “the miracle of Christmas, the greatness of America and the glory of God”, even as he slammed Democrats, accusing the “radical left in Congress” of being “consumed with envy and hate and rage”.
““What they could be doing are declaring their deep hatred and disdain for the American voter,” he said
“This lawless partisan witch hunt is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party. They’re the ones who should be impeached, every one of them.”
Aides had said Mr Trump would wait to see the House vote before speaking to the crowd. But he appeared onstage early, promising “the best speech you’ve ever heard” in a swing state that narrowly voted for him in 2016.
While Mr Trump and his aides have tried to brush off the significance of the vote – noting there is little chance he will be convicted by the Republican-controlled Senate and removed from office – allies nonetheless acknowledged that the President has been angry at the stain that impeachment will leave on his legacy.
Throughout the day, Mr Trump stared down the impending vote as he has every obstacle in his presidency, broadcasting his grievances via tweet.
“Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!” he wrote in one of 45 tweets posted before noon.
He asked his followers to “Say a PRAYER!”
As members of the House debated the articles of impeachment, Mr Trump switched to all capital letters: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!” he wrote.
Mr Trump’s aides, including Kellyanne Conway, fanned out across Capitol Hill to bolster the President’s message that impeachment was helping Republicans and damaging Democrats.
In Michigan, Vice-President Mike Pence was a warm-up act for Mr Trump, calling the impeachment drive “a disgrace” and telling the crowd that Democrats were “trying to impeach this president because they know they can’t defeat this president”.
He said Ms Pelosi and the Democrats are “having their say tonight, but the Republican Senate is going to have their say in January”.
The moment that Nancy Pelosi announces President Trump has been impeached for abuse of power, before gesturing to House Democrats not to applaud. pic.twitter.com/HDOFuuu21N
— Axios (@axios) December 19, 2019
Later, the White House said it was confident the US Senate would exonerate Mr Trump.
“Today marks the culmination in the House of one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our nation. Without receiving a single Republican vote, and without providing any proof of wrongdoing, Democrats pushed illegitimate articles of impeachment against the president through the House of Representatives,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
“The President is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings.
“He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated,” she said.