Democratic lawmakers press ahead with efforts to remove president following riot at U.S. Capitol
Natalie Andrews – The Wall Street Journal.
Congress careened toward a fresh showdown with President Trump, as House Democrats said they plan to vote on impeaching him Wednesday over accusations he incited supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol.
House Democrats introduced an article of impeachment on Monday morning and said they would move ahead regardless of tepid Republican support. While some Republicans have condemned the president for encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol as lawmakers were voting to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, only a handful have backed removing him from office through impeachment or other means, while some have floated censure as an alternative.
Democrats, who have unsuccessfully pressed Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office, are expected to have enough votes to impeach in the House, which requires only a simple majority. A two-thirds supermajority in the Senate would then be required to convict Mr. Trump. The single article of impeachment alleges “incitement of insurrection.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has said there would be no time for a trial and vote before Inauguration Day, with the Senate not set to return until Jan. 19. But incoming leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) is exploring using a little-used emergency tool to call the Senate back sooner if needed, a Senate Democratic aide said. Mr. McConnell would need to agree, and a spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia urged House Democrats to reconsider impeaching Mr. Trump now because the votes in the Senate aren’t currently there. “I think this is so ill-advised for Joe Biden to be coming in, trying to heal the country, trying to be the president of all the people, when we’re going to be so divided and fighting again,’’ Mr. Manchin told Fox News Monday night. “There’s no rush to do this—this impeachment now. We can do it later if they think it’s necessary.’’
The Senate can hold a trial for Mr. Trump even after his presidency ends, which some lawmakers see as justified in both condemning Mr. Trump’s actions and potentially banning Mr. Trump from holding office again.
“Whether impeachment can pass the United States Senate is not the issue,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.). “The issue is, we have a president who most of us believe participated in encouraging an insurrection and attack on this building and on democracy.”
The impeachment plans were laid amid mounting security concerns in the capital. The National Guard said it would bolster its presence in the city by at least 10,000 in advance of next week’s inauguration, and the National Park Service shut down tours of the Washington Monument, citing potential threats to public safety. The governors of Maryland and Virginia issued a joint statement with D.C.’s mayor asking people to stay away from the inauguration Jan. 20.
Mr. Trump hasn’t issued any comments or appeared in public since releasing a statement criticizing Twitter for banning his account on Friday. In recent days, he has fumed to advisers about his ban from social media, the blame he has taken for the riot and what he sees as a betrayal by Mr. Pence, Mr. McConnell, Republican senators and some opinion columnists, according to a person close to the White House.
“It’s clear he’s angry,” said Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley on Fox News. “Democrats came after him with a purely political impeachment not too long ago. Now they’re threatening to do it again,” he said. “The president talked about a peaceful transition. He’s going to leave office and that’s what he’s going to do.”
On Monday, Mr. Trump and the vice president met in the Oval Office for the first time since the riot, according to a senior administration official who said they had a good conversation in which they said “those who broke the law and stormed the Capitol last week do not represent the America first movement.” The two men “pledged to continue the work on behalf of the country for the remainder of their term,” the official added, in a further indication Mr. Pence isn’t planning to seek the president’s removal.
Mr. Trump on Monday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), one of his top allies on Capitol Hill, in a closed-door event. In a statement, the White House praised Mr. Jordan for leading “the effort to confront the impeachment witch hunt” last year. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump is scheduled to travel to Texas in a visit intended to highlight his border-security policy.
On Wednesday, rioters forced their way into the Capitol, threatening Mr. Pence and lawmakers, and disrupting a joint session of Congress to confirm Mr. Biden’s win. A rioter and a police officer were killed and three others died of medical emergencies. Mr. Trump was criticized for urging supporters to march on the Capitol and then not forcefully calling on supporters to stop after they stormed the building.
Mr. Biden said he spoke with some members of the Senate on Monday about potentially dividing legislative days in half between an impeachment trial and other priorities, such as confirming his cabinet nominees and passing a Covid-19 relief bill.
“My priority is to get first and foremost a stimulus bill passed and secondly, again, to rebuild the economy,” Mr. Biden said Monday in Wilmington, Del., after receiving his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Mr. Biden hasn’t said if he supports the impeachment effort, but said he has “been clear that President Trump should not be in office.”
On Tuesday, Democrats plan to reconvene the full House for a vote on a resolution demanding that Mr. Pence and the cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office. If Mr. Pence doesn’t act, Democrats will move forward with an impeachment vote Wednesday. Mr. Pence isn’t expected to move forward with a 25th Amendment process, people familiar with his thinking said.
The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, lays out the details of presidential succession in the event that a president dies or becomes ill. One section of the amendment allows for the vice president to take over the president’s duties if the vice president and the majority of the cabinet determine that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
That section of the amendment has never before been invoked. Congress would get the final say over whether the vice president can maintain the president’s powers, which would be decided by a two-thirds majority. Republicans have enough seats to block an incapacity vote in each house of Congress.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a longtime ally of the president, said in an interview that he had spoken extensively to the president in recent days over how to focus on his policy achievements in his remaining days in office. He said he had urged the president to focus on his efforts to strengthen border security, his foreign policy toward China and the Middle East and his deregulation work.
Mr. Graham’s focus is on trying to stop a second round of impeachment, he said, adding he hoped Republicans could “bottle it up in the House.” He said he expects the president to serve out the remainder of his term, contrary to calls from lawmakers in both parties for him to resign.
Asked whether he had urged the president to further condemn last week’s violence in light of concerns about more violent riots around Inauguration Day, Mr. Graham said: “Sometimes less is better. None of us want to see another round of violence.” He declined to say whether the president appeared remorseful for last week’s events: “I don’t want to get into this stuff about psychoanalyzing anybody.”
The House in December 2019 impeached Mr. Trump on allegations related to his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden. No Republicans crossed party lines in that vote. In the subsequent trial in the Senate, only one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict on the first article of impeachment. Mr. Trump was acquitted.
Several of the president’s allies have broken with Mr. Trump since Wednesday’s riot, with some Republicans calling for him to resign and others saying they would consider supporting impeachment. Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman who served as Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff until March, said in a Fox News interview Sunday that he would seriously consider supporting impeachment if he were still a member of Congress and said lawmakers would view a second impeachment very differently.
GOP aides braced for the possibility of some Republicans casting a vote to impeach Mr. Trump. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) was considered a potential defector, since he last week called for Mr. Trump to be removed from office. All Republicans opposed the House impeachment vote in Dec. 2019.
Some GOP lawmakers were frustrated that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) hadn’t charted a path that avoided the internal splintering over the challenges to Mr. Biden’s electoral win last week. Unlike Mr. McConnell, who discouraged Senate Republicans from contesting the electoral vote count, Mr. McCarthy gave no such guidance and voted with the majority of the House GOP caucus to dispute the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
“I do think that the lack of leadership concerning that vote is deeply troubling to a lot of us,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R., Colo.), who had opposed the effort to object to states’ electoral votes last week. “Ignoring their role in all of this is a mistake.”
On Monday, Mr. McCarthy sent a letter to House Republicans saying that options being discussed by GOP lawmakers included censuring Mr. Trump. Some view censuring the president as a way to hold him accountable and defuse some of the anger following the Capitol attack without impeaching him.
“Personally, I continue to believe that an impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together when we need to get America back on a path towards unity and civility,” Mr. McCarthy wrote.
The unprecedented second impeachment has gathered quick support among House Democrats, with 210 signed on to a resolution that accuses Mr. Trump of inciting an insurrection, according to a Democratic aide. A total of 222 lawmakers are in the House Democratic caucus, and it would take 217 votes to pass an impeachment measure, with 433 House seats currently filled.
Should the House pass an impeachment article and send it to the Senate, it is unlikely the president would be removed before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The Senate is set to be on recess until Jan. 19, and a Senate trial could require unanimous consent to get started before Inauguration Day. Any conviction in the Senate would require more than a dozen Republican votes.
The House could also hold on to the article of impeachment and allow the new Democratic-controlled Senate to confirm Mr. Biden’s nominees and get started on his agenda, before sending an impeachment article to the Senate for a trial.
Instead of backing impeachment, some GOP lawmakers have said that Mr. Trump should resign in his final days in office.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on Sunday said Mr. Trump should step down. “I think the best way for our country is for the president to resign and go away as soon as possible,” Mr. Toomey said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The fallout from the riot was also felt in other ways on Capitol Hill this week. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D., N.J.) said Monday she had tested positive for Covid-19 after sheltering in the Capitol during the riots with other lawmakers, several of whom she said refused to wear masks.
—Sabrina Siddiqui, Kristina Peterson and Catherine Lucey contributed to this article.
Featured article licensed from the Wall Street Journal.