BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - Defiant in the face of a historic rebuke, President Donald Trump rallied supporters in Michigan on Wednesday night as the House voted to impeach him, declaring, “It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.”
Trump took the stage just minutes before he became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.
In a dramatic and discordant split-screen, Trump emerged from a mock fireplace at the Christmas-themed rally as the debate in Washington was underway. 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."
Aides had said Trump would wait to see the House vote before coming out to address the rally, but he appeared onstage early and promised “the best speech you've ever heard" in a swing state that narrowly voted for him in 2016.
While 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 Trump has been angry over the stain that impeachment will leave on his legacy.
FILE - President Donald Trump addresses his impeachment during a Merry Christmas Rally at the Kellogg Arena on December 18, 2019 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Throughout the day, Trump stared down the impending vote as he has every obstacle in his presidency: by broadcasting his grievances via tweet.
While the White House insisted Trump would be busy working rather than focused on the proceedings in the House, he spent much of his day tweeting and retweeting, expressing fury and disbelief.
“Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!" Trump 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, Trump's urgency appeared to escalate as he 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.
The House considered two articles of impeachment. The first charges him with abuse of power for allegedly pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals while crucial U.S. security aid was being withheld. The second charges him with obstruction of Congress for stonewalling investigative efforts.
As the debate wore on, Trump aides, including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, fanned out across Capitol Hill to bolster the president's message that impeachment is helping Republicans and damaging Democrats. Vice President Mike Pence got to Michigan ahead of Trump for a daylong bus tour before the Battle Creek rally.
Serving as a warm-up act for Trump at the rally, Pence labeled the impeachment drive “a disgrace” and told the crowd that Democrats were “trying to impeach this president because they know they can’t defeat this president."
He said Pelosi and the Democrats are “having their say tonight, but the Republican Senate is going to have their say in January.”
The president's middle son, Eric, told reporters during a campaign conference call that he and other Trump surrogates would be working to target Democrats in districts his father won in 2016.
“We’re going to win this thing again. They are handing it to us," he said. “But this is very sad that they are putting the country through this."
Conway said recent polling and the influx of money suggest “this entire exercise has blown up in the Democrats' face." Polls indicate the public is divided over whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office, though opinions have generally remained steady.
Trump's campaign has experienced a surge in contributions and volunteers during the proceedings and was hoping to raise an additional $2 million Wednesday ahead of the votes.
Trump, for his part, had plenty to say via tweet, declaring that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “Will go down in history as worst Speaker." He also generously retweeted allies' comments from his favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends," as the hosts sought to reassure conservative voters that Trump remains in good spirits despite the looming vote.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, and Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, said they were among a group of GOP lawmakers who met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday evening to talk strategy about Wednesday’s House session and the likely Senate trial in January.
McCarthy insisted that Trump remains focused on moving forward with his agenda, despite the implications for his legacy.
“Anybody else, this would be traumatic for them,” McCarthy said. “I've never seen a man so strong. ... He is focused on what the American people need.”
It was a message repeated by White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who insisted on “Fox & Friends" that the president has been a voice of calm for top administration officials, despite his public fury.
“He is such a focused president," Grisham said. "I must tell you that while he's frustrated ... he is also so focused, and he is leading our White House and keeping us calm and telling us, 'That's OK, we're going to move forward, we're focused, this is going to take us through to 2020.'”