Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, as 10 of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurrection in last week’s violent rampage in the Capitol.
The vote in the Democratic-controlled House was 232-197 following the deadly assault on American democracy, although it appeared unlikely the swift impeachment would lead to Trump’s ouster before his four-year term ends and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The Senate’s Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, rejected Democratic calls for a quick impeachment trial, saying there was no way to conclude it before Trump leaves office. But even if he has left the White House, a Senate conviction of Trump could lead to a vote on banning him from running for office again.
The House passed a single article of impeachment – a formal charge – accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” focused on an incendiary speech he delivered to thousands of supporters shortly before the pro-Trump mob rampaged through the Capitol. The mob disrupted the formal certification of Biden’s victory over Trump in the Nov. 3 election, sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead, including a police officer.
During his speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol.
In a video statement released after the vote, Trump did not mention the impeachment vote and took no responsibility for his remarks to supporters last week, but condemned the violence.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law and order,” Trump said.
With thousands of rifle-carrying National Guard troops inside and outside the Capitol, an emotional debate unfolded in the same House chamber where lawmakers had crouched under chairs and donned gas masks on Jan. 6 as rioters clashed with police officers outside the doors.
“The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on the House floor before the vote. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
At a later ceremony, she signed the article of impeachment before it is sent to the Senate, saying she did it “sadly, with a heart broken over what this means to our country.”
No U.S. president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Three – Trump in 2019, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 – previously were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro called Trump “the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office.” Congresswoman Maxine Waters accused Trump of wanting civil war and fellow Democrat Jim McGovern said the president “instigated an attempted coup.”
‘PRESIDENT BEARS RESPONSIBILITY’
Some Republicans argued the impeachment drive was a rush to judgment that bypassed the customary deliberative process such as hearings and called on Democrats to abandon the effort for the sake of national unity and healing.
“Impeaching the president in such a short time frame would be a mistake,” said Kevin McCarthy, the House’s top Republican. “That doesn’t mean the president is free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
Trump’s closest allies, such as Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, went further, accusing Democrats of recklessly acting out of pure political interest.
“This is about getting the president of the United States,” said Jordan, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump in a private White House ceremony this week. “It’s always been about getting the president, no matter what. It’s an obsession.”
‘I’M CHOOSING TRUTH’
Ten Republicans voted to impeach, including Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican.
“I am not choosing a side, I’m choosing truth,” Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler said in announcing her support for impeachment, drawing applause from Democrats. “It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
In a break from standard procedure, Republican House leaders refrained from urging their members to vote against impeachment, calling the vote a matter of individual conscience.
Under the U.S. Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.
McConnell has said no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Jan. 19, one day before Biden’s inauguration. The trial would proceed in the Senate even after Trump leaves office.
In a written message to his fellow senators, McConnell wrote, “The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President. The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the article from the House.
“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week. The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively.
“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. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The President-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency.
“In light of this reality, I believe it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden Administration. I am grateful to the offices and institutions within the Capitol that are working around the clock, alongside federal and local law enforcement, to prepare for a safe and successful inauguration at the Capitol next Wednesday.”
The New York Times had reported earlier that McConnell himself has privately indicated that he will vote for impeachment. But in a letter to GOP colleagues Wednesday, before the House impeachment vote, McConnell said, “While the press has been full of speculation, 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.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who is set to become majority leader later this month, said in a statement that no matter the timing, “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.”
The Capitol siege raised concerns about political violence in the United States once considered all but unthinkable. The FBI has warned of armed protests planned for Washington and all 50 U.S. state capitals ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
The House impeached Trump after he ignored calls for his resignation and Pence rebuffed Democratic demands to invoke a constitutional provision to remove the president.
The House previously voted to impeach Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election, as Democrats accused him of soliciting foreign interference to smear a domestic political rival. The Senate in February 2020 voted to keep Trump in office.
Wednesday’s article of impeachment accused Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” saying he provoked violence against the U.S. government in his speech to supporters. The article also cited Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call asking a Georgia official to “find” votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.
During his Jan. 6 speech, Trump claimed he had defeated Biden, repeated unfounded allegations of widespread fraud and irregularities in a “rigged” election, told his supporters to “stop the steal,” “show strength,” “fight much harder” and use “very different rules” and promised to go with them to the Capitol, although he did not.
Trump told his supporters that if they don’t fight, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Updated Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 8:20 pm .