Donald Trump becomes the third president in US history to be impeached

A Baby Trump Balloon floats outside City Hall in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A Baby Trump Balloon floats outside City Hall in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) - Credit: AP

Donald Trump has become the third president in US history to be impeached, and the only one in modern times to be running for reelection facing the political equivalent of an indictment, an indelible mark on a purposely disruptive presidency.

A majority in US House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on the charge of abuse of power for enlisting a foreign ally to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election.

Democrats led the voting on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, and were expected to approve another, obstruction of Congress, in what many framed as their duty to protect the Constitution to uphold the nation's system of checks and balances.

Republicans stood beside the party's president, who has called the investigation a "witch hunt," a "hoax" and a "sham," and sometimes all three.

Trump, who began Wednesday tweeting his anger at the proceedings, headed for an evening rally in Battle Creek, Michigan.

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As the House debated the articles of impeachment, Trump's tweets 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.

Impeachment would send the matter to the Senate for a trial, where a two-thirds vote is necessary for conviction. While Democrats have the majority in the House, Republicans control the Senate and are expected to acquit the president of the charges in the new year ahead of early state presidential primary voting.

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But the focus Wednesday was on the House, which conducted lengthy debate into the evening hours.

"Today we are here to defend democracy for the people," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she opened debate.

What Pelosi called a sad and solemn moment for the country, coming just 11 months after Democrats swept control of the House, actually unfolded in a caustic day-long session that showcased the nation's divide.

The split was not just along party lines, but the cultural, regional and racial differences that underscore the partisanship in Congress. People gathered at the Capitol steps, and in protests across the nation, to follow the impeachment vote.

"President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process," according to the impeachment resolution.

The president "betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections," it said, and then he obstructed Congress' oversight like "no president"' in US history.

"President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office," it said.

Democrats drew from history, the founders and their own experiences as minorities, women and some immigrants to the US, seeking to honour their oath of office to uphold the constitution.

Representative Lou Correa spoke in Spanish asking God to unite the nation.

"In America," said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, "no one is above the law."

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