U.S. President Donald Trump is on the verge of being impeached for a second time in an unprecedented House vote Wednesday, a week after he encouraged a mob of loyalists to “fight like hell” against election results just before they stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly siege.
Trump, who would become the only U.S. president twice impeached, faces a single charge of “incitement of insurrection.”
The stunning collapse of Trump’s final days in office, against alarming warnings of more violence ahead by his followers, leaves the nation at an uneasy and unfamiliar juncture before Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The House chaplain opened the session early Wednesday with a prayer for “seizing the scales of justice from the jaws of mob-ocracy.”
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern began to make the party’s case that the only remedy was Trump’s removal.
“Domestic terrorists broke into the United States Capitol and it’s a miracle more people didn’t die,” McGovern said of the Jan. 6 violence.
“These were not protesters. These were not patriots. These were traitors. These were domestic terrorists, and they were acting under the orders of Donald Trump,” he added.
Republicans push for censure, commission
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole urged Democrats to consider other measures, and he and colleagues from his party who spoke early on pushed for a formal censure that Cole claimed would have “significant bipartisan support,” as well as a national commission to understand the events that lead to the deadly Capitol siege.
“There’s still time to choose a different path, one that leads to reconciliation,” said Cole.
Cole objected to what he called a rushed process, with no scheduled witnesses testifying. He said that legal experts in the past week have arrived at “dramatically different conclusions” as to whether Trump’s words and actions justified an impeachment charge.
Five deaths have been connected to the Jan. 6 riots, two in violent fashion. A San Diego woman who travelled to Washington to protest the certification of Biden’s win, Ashli Babbitt, was shot to death, while Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was assaulted in the violence and later died in hospital.
Three other people were said to have suffered medical episodes leading to death, while another Capitol Police officer on duty that day died by suicide on Jan. 9.
Lawmakers had to scramble for safety and hide as rioters took control of the Capitol and delayed by hours the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.
The outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”
WATCH l Trump pans House’s efforts:
The four-page impeachment resolution relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a White House rally on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in building its case for high crimes and misdemeanours as demanded in the Constitution.
Trump took no responsibility for the riot, suggesting it was the drive to oust him, rather than his actions around the bloody riot, 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,” Trump said Tuesday, his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence.
Limited House Republican support so far
At least five Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, were unswayed by the president’s logic. The Republicans announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership and the party itself.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney 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.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is said to be angry at Trump, and it’s unclear how an impeachment trial would play out. In the House, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a top Trump ally, scrambled to suggest a lighter censure instead, but that option crumbled.
So far, Republican Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran; Fred Upton of Michigan; and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state announced they, too, would join Cheney to vote to impeach.
The House tried first to push Vice-President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to intervene, passing a resolution Tuesday night calling on them to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump from office.
The resolution urged Pence to “declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”
Pence made it clear he would not do so, saying in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”
With new security, lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about the screening.
The impeachment bill 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.
Trump was impeached just over a year ago for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for trying to strong-arm Ukraine’s leader to help damage Biden politically.