WASHINGTON — Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, this time for inciting a deadly mob attack at the Capitol just one week ago in a bid to remain in power.
The House of Representatives charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”
It is an extraordinary moment that comes as National Guard troops have swarmed the Capitol. Extremists around the nation are threatening to return to Washington, DC, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Trump has largely been forced silent, stripped of his ability to communicate to his millions of followers on social media. And the impeachment vote has shown the first fractures of Trump’s ironclad hold over the Republican Party in four years. Trump leaves office in seven days, but Democrats have demanded accountability for the attack that killed five and terrorized members of Congress and staff.
Every Democrat voted in favor of impeachment, and, after four years of defending and enabling the president at nearly every turn, 10 Republicans — including the third-highest-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — crossed party lines and voted to impeach. The final vote was 232–197.
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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said they plan to transmit the article to the Senate “as soon as possible” for a trial to convict Trump and remove him from office. The trial may be delayed until Jan. 19, however, because the Senate is not in Washington, meaning it could continue into the first days of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Trump could still face consequences, including not being able to run again, even if he’s convicted after leaving office.
At least 17 Senate Republicans would need to vote to convict Trump. Perhaps most consequentially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday told his colleagues, “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.”
Earlier, the New York Times reported that McConnell has privately said he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses. His potential support likely gives some Senate Republicans who have relentlessly stood by the president an opening to convict him.
The impeachment comes exactly a week after Trump encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol and stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the election. His supporters stormed the building, forcing members of Congress to evacuate as rioters brawled with cops, vandalized the building, and forced themselves onto the House and Senate floor and into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. The attempted coup left five people dead, including one Capitol Police officer.
“Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States,” the impeachment article reads.
In addition to Cheney, Republican Reps. Peter Meijer, Tom Rice, Fred Upton, Anthony Gonzalez, John Katko, Adam Kinzinger, Jaime Herrera Beutler, David Valadao, and Dan Newhouse voted to impeach Trump.
Responding to reports that some Republicans feared for their safety if they voted to impeach Trump, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has herself been a frequent target of racist attacks from the president, said that her colleagues should stand up for their principles or resign.
“As someone who has had death threats directly incited by the president grave enough to truly endanger my life, I summon the courage every single day to show up and to represent my constituents and to carry out the duties of the office that I hold. Courage is possibly facing death but being resolute in your actions,” she said. “And to my colleagues, if they are so afraid to fulfill their oath of office, they should resign.”
On Tuesday night, the House passed a nonbinding resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office. Ahead of the vote, Pence refused, dismissing the resolution as “political games.” Pelosi said previously that if Pence did not invoke the 25th Amendment, the House would move to impeach. They followed through with the threat Wednesday.
Just one Republican, Kinzinger, voted for the 25th Amendment resolution Tuesday night. Many more Republicans continue to stand by Trump. Just hours after the president’s supporters broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the results of the election.
One of those Republicans, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, acknowledged before the impeachment vote that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack” and said that the president “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
But McCarthy, who voted against impeaching Trump hours later, said that the impeachment was moving too quickly and that it would only “further fan the flames of partisan division.”
McCarthy is one of several Republicans who voted to try to undermine Biden’s win last week — giving Trump and his supporters what they wanted out of the riot — and then called for unity only after Democrats began pursuing impeachment.
New Jersey Rep. Donald Norcross drew a direct line between Republicans’ actions and the attempted coup at the Capitol in a speech on the House floor Wednesday. “A police officer was killed and what I hear is ‘It’s time to heal.’ He’s not even buried yet!” Norcross said, raising his voice. “It’s clear and present danger. No one is above the law. Not the president, if he has four years or four days.”
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Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat and Black Lives Matter activist who was elected to Congress in 2020, also gave an impassioned speech in support of impeaching Trump. “If we fail to remove a white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist insurrection, it’s communities like Missouri’s 1st District that suffer the most,” she said; her district includes both St. Louis and Ferguson. “The 117th Congress must understand that we have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives. The first step is to root out white supremacy, starting with impeaching the white supremacist in chief.”
New York Rep. Mondaire Jones, another first-year House Democrat, said, “There must be consequences for last week’s treason and sedition. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Donald Trumps in today’s Republican Party aim to run for higher office, and we must send a message that no one in the United States of America is above the law.”
In late 2019, the House voted to impeach Trump the first time on two counts, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, after he sought interference in the 2020 election during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The process was long and more drawn out, including weeks of hearings prior to the vote. No Republicans voted to impeach, and two Democrats joined them in voting against the charge. Trump was acquitted by the Senate. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the sole Republican who voted to convict.
But the second impeachment was swift and looks like it could end in a possible Senate conviction. Democrats chose to forgo hearings, instead bringing the article of impeachment directly to the House floor.
Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone said that Wednesday's vote felt different than the last impeachment. "I think it's even more serious. Because the offense is even more serious — the attack on the Capitol, the inciting a group to overturn the election," he said.
In a statement, President-elect Joe Biden called on Senate leaders to run the impeachment trial while also taking action on key confirmations of his administration, a COVID-19 vaccine program, and the economy.
"Too many of our fellow Americans have suffered for too long over the past year to delay this urgent work," he said. "I have often said that there is nothing we can't do, if we do it together. And it has never been more critical for us to stand together as a nation than right now."
Pelosi named House impeachment managers on Tuesday night, who will prosecute the case in the Senate. She plans to sign the articles of impeachment using the same podium that was stolen by a rioter at the Capitol last week (her office said that it had been moved, but never left the Capitol building).
After winning both seats in Georgia earlier this month, Democrats will have tie-breaking power in the Senate once the two senators-elect are sworn in. If every Senate Democrat votes to convict Trump, they will need 17 Republicans to join them to succeed. If Trump is convicted, Democrats could bar Trump from running for office again with a simple majority vote.
“Donald John Trump … has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” the article of impeachment charging Trump reads. “Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”
Paul McLeod contributed to this story.
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