Impeachment divides Georgia, and impact could be felt in 2020 election

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, could be named one of the impeachment managers, essentially prosecutors in the case against President Donald Trump, if the process advances to a trial in the Senate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, could be named one of the impeachment managers, essentially prosecutors in the case against President Donald Trump, if the process advances to a trial in the Senate. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Credit: Getty Images

The swift political reaction to President Donald Trump’s impeachment reflected the deep partisan divide in Georgia and the nation and offered a hint at how the issue will play out in the 2020 election.

State Republicans brushed aside the impeachment charges as a “sham” and a “hoax” orchestrated by Democrats bent on ousting a president they couldn’t defeat at the ballot box. And Democrats framed their votes as a solemn stand for the U.S. Constitution, even if doing so could cause them political harm.

The Georgia congressional delegation voted Wednesday along party lines to make Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. All five Democrats voted for the two charges, including U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, who represents one of the state's most competitive districts. And all nine Republicans voted "no."

Meanwhile, a Georgia Senate resolution offered a reminder that impeachment politics will resonate down the ticket to state legislative races. A trio of Republican state senators filed a resolution ahead of the state’s upcoming legislative session condemning the U.S. House for pursuing impeachment charges.

“The American people expect and deserve an efficient and hard-working federal government that is free of distracting bias and politically driven theatrics,” the resolution states.

The fight over impeachment roughly mirrors the partisan divide in Georgia. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in November found a majority of voters approve of the impeachment investigation but are more torn over whether Trump should be ousted from office.

‘What did you do?’

As the tense debate over impeachment stretched late into Wednesday evening, Democrats spoke gravely about an outcome that seemed all but inevitable, mindful that the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to convict and remove Trump from office after a trial that could start in January.

“Our children and their children will ask us, ‘What did you do? What did you say?’ ” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta. “For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

Echoing Trump, Republicans decried their counterparts as power-hungry politicians eager to distract from the president’s accomplishments. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, mocked the “mob rule” rush to impeach that he said could come back to haunt Democrats.

“He is innocent, and these come nowhere close to proving it,” he said, later turning to Democrats in the chamber with a question: “What did you gain at the end by trashing the institution you claimed to love?”

McBath didn’t speak during the debate, but she struck a mournful tone during an interview after the vote. She told the AJC that “God must truly be grieved by what is happening here” and she prayed that the nation’s divides could be healed.

Her Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, made clear that she’ll put McBath’s vote for impeachment at the center of her comeback bid. Her campaign sent out a late-night fundraising appeal with a succinct subject line: “It happened.”

“Lucy McBath and her corrupt Democrat pals will stop at nothing to steal the 2020 election,” Handel’s note stated. “Georgia supports President Trump and we will not let that happen.”

‘Easy’ decision

The debate will soon shift to the Senate, which will hold a trial to decide whether Trump should be removed from office. The Senate has left all of January open for impeachment proceedings, and the chamber’s leaders will soon meet to iron out details about how to proceed.

First, though, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must send the charges to the Senate. And the timing was in doubt Thursday as Pelosi and her allies expressed reluctance to send over the charges or appoint the lawmakers who will serve as managers, essentially prosecutors in the case, until the Senate’s GOP leaders outline the process and ensure a fair trial.

If the standoff ends with an impeachment trial moving forward — and there’s no certainty it will — another Georgia lawmaker could play a pivotal role. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia, an attorney who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, could be named as one of the impeachment managers to present the case against Trump.

In an interview Thursday, U.S. Sen. David Perdue said he and other Republicans want to ensure Trump can defend himself against charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by giving his attorneys the power to call witnesses who could strengthen the president’s case.

“And then each senator would be allowed to submit questions in writing to the chief justice, who then decides which ones get asked and how they get sequenced,” Perdue said. “We could call for a vote to acquit at that point.”

Kelly Loeffler, set to become Georgia’s next U.S. senator in January, also left no mystery about her stance on impeachment. She told the AJC she’s not even sure where her office is going to be yet, but that her first major vote will be an “easy one.”

“This impeachment sham is an attack on what was a free and fair election,” she said, “and I will stand strongly against impeachment and vote no.”