US lawmakers vote to send Trump to trial

Senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi says an important threshold in American history is being crossed.
Senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi says an important threshold in American history is being crossed.

The US House of Representatives has voted to send two charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, clearing the way for only the third impeachment trial of a US president to begin next week.

Lawmakers voted 228 to 193 to give the Senate, controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, the task of putting him on trial.

The charges allege Trump abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, and that he obstructed Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought by Democratic lawmakers.

The vote in the Democrat-led House of Representatives was largely along party lines.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, keeping him in office, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him.

Such a step would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-seat chamber, under the US Constitution.

But Trump's impeachment by the House last month will remain as a stain on his record and the televised trial in the Senate could be uncomfortable for him as he seeks re-election on November 3.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge him.

Before Wednesday's vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named a seven-member team of House Democrats to serve as prosecutors at the Senate trial.

"We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history," she said on the House floor.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, was selected to head the team of House "managers".

The White House has yet to unveil its defence team. The trial will be overseen by US Chief Justice John Roberts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said opening statements in the trial are expected next Tuesday.

A pivotal event in Trump's impeachment was a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukraine's president to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.

Democrats have called this an abuse of power because Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in a US election for his own benefit at the expense of American national security.

Biden is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the presidential election.

Republicans have argued that Trump's actions did not rise to the level of impeachable offences.

They have accused Democrats of using the Ukraine affair as a way to nullify Trump's 2016 election victory.

No US president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment.

Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 in the Watergate corruption scandal before the full House could vote on articles of impeachment, while Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, respectively in 1868 and 1998, but not convicted by the Senate.

Australian Associated Press