President Donald Trump
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
President Donald Trump, a man hyperaware of his achievements and place in history, added a first to his record on Wednesday.
A week before he will leave office, Trump became the first American president impeached by the House twice. The chamber charged him with high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol seven days ago.
The president’s behavior in the 13 months since the first impeachment left House Democrats making a more clear-cut case than the first time around. The chamber charged Trump in a 232-197 vote, as all Democrats and 10 Republicans backed the measure.
The four-page article of impeachment the chamber approved on Wednesday argues Trump fed his supporters months of false claims that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election, then urged them to contest the results before they marched to the Capitol and disrupted Congress’ count of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
“He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to manifest injury of the people of the United States,” the House’s charging document reads.
After the insurrection that killed at least five people, including a Capitol Police officer, Democrats have argued allowing Trump to serve out his term both lets him dodge consequences and raises the prospect of more violence before Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Still, Congress likely will not have enough time to push the president out of office before next week — even if the now GOP-held Senate chooses to convict him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the House vote that the upper chamber would not start the trial until “our first regular meeting following receipt of the article from the House” — Tuesday at the earliest. The timeline means the impeachment proceedings will drag into Biden’s term.
“Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office,” McConnell said in a statement Wednesday. “This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact.”
Democrats urged Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to start the faster process of removing Trump through the 25th Amendment. Pence refused, arguing in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the move is not “in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution.”
Pelosi opened the impeachment debate on the House floor Wednesday and argued the country cannot risk leaving the president in power.
“He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation we all love,” she said.
Though a handful of Republicans voted to impeach Trump, the vast majority of GOP representatives opposed the effort after the attack on the Capitol. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday that Trump “bears responsibility” for the riot. But he called impeachment “a mistake” without an investigation or hearings.
“A vote to impeach will further divide the nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division,” he said, calling instead for a resolution to censure Trump.
Once the House sends the impeachment article to the Senate, the upper chamber has to quickly start a trial. It then would vote on whether to convict Trump. The House plans to send the article across the Capitol immediately, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told NBC News on Wednesday.
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) speaks to reporters as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, U.S., January 13, 2021.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
The Senate plans to reconvene on Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has argued McConnell can use emergency powers to bring the chamber back sooner.
In a statement following the House vote, Schumer said the Senate “will hold a fair trial on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump for his role in inciting the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and attempting to overturn a free and fair election.”
“A Senate trial can begin immediately, with agreement from the current Senate Majority Leader to reconvene the Senate for an emergency session, or it will begin after January 19th,” he said. “But make no mistake, there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate; there will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors; and if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
While the Senate will not have enough time to remove the president from office, it can stop him from becoming president again in 2025. He could also lose perks given to former presidents.
The president has not taken any responsibility for the Capitol invasion. On Tuesday, he defended himself, saying, “People thought what I said was totally appropriate.”
He also said impeachment is “causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger.”
Lawmakers have sounded the alarm about the potential for further insurrection, including on the day of Biden’s inauguration. Trump responded to those concerns in a statement Wednesday that nonetheless neglected to address his supporters specifically.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” he said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”
In making the case for Trump’s conviction in the Senate, Pelosi warned of the potential for Trump to wreak havoc in the years ahead. She called a vote to convict in the upper chamber a “constitutional remedy that will ensure that the republic will be safe from this man who is so resolutely determined to tear down the things that we hold dear and that hold us together.”
A Congress on edge after the insurrection threatened lawmakers’ lives went to work in an unrecognizable environment Wednesday. Enhanced fortifications stood outside the Capitol. National Guard members slept overnight in the halls of the legislature and Capitol Visitors Center. Lawmakers had to go through a metal detector to get on the House floor, prompting outrage from some Republicans after it was put in place Tuesday.
The first time the House impeached Trump, only one congressional Republican — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — joined Democrats in trying to remove the president. Former Rep. Justin Amash, an ex-Republican who became an independent, also voted to charge Trump in 2019.
The Capitol insurrection made more GOP lawmakers willing to boot their party’s president from office.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) talks with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) in the U.S. Capitol after the House voted on a resolution demanding U.S. Vice President Pence and the cabinet remove President Trump from office, in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2021.
Erin Scott | Reuters
The GOP lawmakers who voted to charge Trump on Wednesday include Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking member of the GOP caucus.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement Tuesday of Trump’s behavior before and after the attack.
The other Republicans who voted to charge the president are Reps. John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Fred Upton of Michigan, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Dan Newhouse of Washington, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Tom Rice of South Carolina and David Valadao of California.
No Senate Republicans have yet said they will vote to remove Trump. The New York Times reported Tuesday that McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses. In a Wednesday message to colleagues responding to “speculation” in the press, McConnell said he had not decided whether to back impeachment.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he wrote.
Two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — have called on Trump to resign. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he would “consider” whatever article the House sends across the Capitol.
Some Republicans suggested Trump would learn a lesson and rein in his behavior after the first impeachment. Other GOP lawmakers came to the conclusion this week that they cannot trust him to take accountability for his actions.
Upton cited Trump’s lack of remorse for helping to incite the Capitol riot in saying he would vote to impeach the president. He said in a Tuesday statement that the president “expressed no regrets for last week’s violent insurrection.”
In a Tuesday statement explaining her decision to impeach Trump, Beutler ran through Trump’s actions during the riot in detail. She said “hours went by before the President did anything meaningful to stop the attack,” pointing to his continued criticism of Pence even after the vice president fled from the mob. She noted that in a “pathetic denouncement of the violence that also served as a wink and nod to those who perpetuated it,” Trump said “we love you” to his supporters who stormed the Capitol.
Now for the second time in Trump’s presidency, his impeachment will head to the Senate. The chamber will be split 50-50 by the end of the month when Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff from Georgia are sworn in.
If every Democrat convicts Trump, 17 Republicans would have to join them to hit the needed two-thirds threshold.
Trump could still occupy another unique place in American history. The only president impeached twice could become the first to get convicted by the Senate.