House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to deliver an unusual public statement today in Washington on the status of the House impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Pelosi met behind closed doors with her Democratic caucus, asking, "Are you ready?"
The answer was a resounding yes, according to those in the room.
Democrats are charging toward a Christmas vote on removing the country's 45th president, a situation Pelosi hoped to avoid, but it now seems inevitable. She is to make a public statement on impeachment at 9 a.m. ET.
Three leading legal scholars testified Wednesday to the House judiciary committee that Trump's attempts to have Ukraine investigate Democratic rivals are grounds for impeachment, bolstering the Democrats' case.
A fourth expert called by Republicans warned against rushing the process, arguing this would be the shortest of impeachment proceedings, with the "thinnest" record of evidence in modern times, setting a worrisome standard.
Trump is alleged to have abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by withholding $400 million US in military aid that Congress had approved for Ukraine, and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.
Across the Capitol, the polarizing political divide over impeachment, the fourth such inquiry in the nation's history, was on display.
Democrats in the House say the inquiry is a duty. Republican representatives say it's a sham. And quietly, senators of both parties conferred on Wednesday, preparing for an eventual Trump trial.
'We cannot wait for the election'
"Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favours from a foreign government," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, chair of the judiciary panel, which would draw up articles of impeachment.
Nadler said Trump's phone call seeking a "favour" from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wasn't the first time he had sought foreign help to influence an American election, noting Russian interference in 2016. He warned against inaction with a new campaign underway.
"We cannot wait for the election," he said. " If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain."
Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London, called the hearing a "joke" and doubted many people would watch because it's "boring."
'You just don't like the guy'
Once an outsider to Republicans, Trump now has their unwavering support. They joined in his name-calling the judiciary proceedings a "disgrace" and unfair, the dredging up of unfounded allegations as part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove him from office.
"You just don't like the guy," said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel. Trump rewarded some of his allies with politically valuable presidential tweets as the daylong hearing dragged into the evening.
Despite the intent of America's Founding Fathers to create a durable system of legal checks and balances, impeachment is an admittedly political exercise. Thus Pelosi asked her still-new majority if they were willing to press onward, aware of still-uncertain electoral risks.
At the Democrats' private meeting, support for the impeachment effort was vigorous, though voting to remove Trump could be difficult for some lawmakers in regions where the president has substantial backing.
The Democratic lawmakers also delivered a standing ovation to Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 300-page intelligence committee report catalogued potential grounds for impeachment, overwhelmingly indicating they want to continue to press the inquiry rather than slow its advance or call a halt for fear of political costs in next year's congressional elections. The meeting was described by people familiar with it, who were unauthorized to discuss it by name and were granted anonymity.
Meanwhile, Trump's team fanned out across the Capitol, with Vice-President Mike Pence meeting with House Republicans and White House officials conferring with Senate Republicans to prepare for what could be the first presidential impeachment trial in a generation.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has declined to participate in the House proceedings, relayed Trump's hope the impeachment effort can be stopped in the House and there would be no need for a Senate trial, which seems unlikely.
White House officials and others said Trump is eager to have his say. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, said, "He feels like he has had no opportunity to tell his side of the story."
In a tweet late Wednesday, Trump indicated his call to Zelensky last July was not for personal gain, that he wanted the Ukrainian president to help the United States.
Trump lambastes the impeachment probe daily and proclaims his innocence of any wrongdoing at length, but he has declined to testify before House hearings or answer questions in writing.
At the heart of the inquiry is his July 25 phone call asking Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats including Joe Biden as he was withholding aid from the ally, which faced an aggressive Russia on its border.
At Wednesday's session, three legal experts called by Democrats said impeachment was merited.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president's conduct met the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanours." Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, said, "If what we're talking about is not impeachable ... then nothing is impeachable."
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor and former Obama administration Justice Department official, drew criticism for mentioning Trump's teenage son, Barron, in a wordplay, violating an unwritten but firm Washington rule against dragging first family's children into politics.
The only Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, dissented from the other legal experts. He said the Democrats were bringing a "slipshod impeachment" case against the president, but he didn't excuse Trump's behaviour.
WATCH: Prof. Noah Feldman explains how Trump is obstructing the hearings
"It is not wrong because President Trump is right," Turley said. "A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record."
Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower's complaint, the intelligence committee's impeachment report found that Trump "sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process and endangered U.S. national security." When Congress began investigating, it says, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.
Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for investigations of Biden and his son.
While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.
Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment in a matter of days, with a judiciary committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. The matter would then move to the Senate for a trial in 2020.