The U.S. House of Representatives pressed swiftly Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice-president to push him out first.
Trump showed no remorse, blaming his accusers instead for the “tremendous anger” in the United States.
Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising on Wednesday is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.
As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the storming of the Capitol, they were also bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
The House of Representatives were expected to approve a resolution Tuesday night calling on Vice-President Mike Pence and the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unable to serve.
But Pence, who said he had a “good meeting” with Trump on Monday, their first since the vice-president was among those sheltering from the attack, told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter Tuesday evening that he would not use the 25th Amendment and urged Congress to focus on the Biden transition and avoid impeachment.
“I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with our Constitution,” Pence said.
Call for censure
A group of moderate House Republicans has also introduced a resolution to censure Trump for his role in last week’s attack and for “attempting to unlawfully overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
The group, led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, said in a statement Tuesday that they believe Democrats’ push to impeach the president for a second time is unrealistic and would likely result in acquittal by the Senate. Instead, they said they believe the House and Senate should censure Trump to ensure that Congress “can unite to hold the president accountable.”
Majority Democrats will begin consideration of the impeachment resolution on Wednesday
“All of us have to do some soul-searching,” Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said during a House rules debate, pleading for a change of heart among colleagues still backing Trump.
Three Republicans, including third-ranking House Republican leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the party’s leadership.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.
“Everything that followed was his doing.”
Cheney noted that Trump could have immediately intervened to stop his supporters but did not.
Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Iraq War veteran, said they, too, would vote to impeach.
Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.
“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” he said during a visit to Alamo, Texas, Tuesday.
Trump faces single charge
In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”
Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution introduced Monday after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.
As part of its report supporting the impeachment, the House judiciary committee wrote, “President Trump has no free speech defence.”
“President Trump is not a private citizen, free to say whatever he wants without accepting the consequences or recognizing the effects it might have on our system of government,” the committee said.
It goes on to say Trump is an “imminent threat” to the safety and security of Americans and that it is “important that Congress send a clear message and establish a precedent that the president’s conduct subjects him to impeachment and removal from office” even though that message may not be well received by either Trump or his supporters.
During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Democratic Rep. Norma Torres urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.
“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”
But Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a top Trump ally just honoured this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”
Republicans could vote to impeach
A handful of House Republicans could vote to impeach, but in the narrowly divided Senate impeachment is not expected to receive the support of two-thirds of members necessary to convict — though some Republican senators have said it’s time for Trump to resign.
The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration, and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert.
The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.
The final days of Trump’s presidency will be like none other as Democrats and a small number of Republicans try to expel him after he incited the mob that violently ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.
Republicans weighing decisions
Cheney spoke to her House Republican colleagues late Monday of the significance of the impeachment vote and encouraged them to consider it a “vote of conscience,” according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private call.
In the Senate, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”
No member of the cabinet has publicly called for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment.
Democrats say they have the votes for impeachment. The impeachment bill from Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.
Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former attorney general William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.
The impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.
The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol building, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the electoral college.
While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.