White House resignations as Republicans turn on Trump

Cleaning up the political mess created Mr Trump may be less simple

Andew Buncombe
Chief US Correspondent
Friday 08 January 2021 00:41 GMT
Congressman Jason Crow describes attack on the Capitol
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Donald Trump’s powerful transportation minister has quit – the most senior in a succession of White House officials to walk out on the president as a mounting number of Republicans have turned on him following the riots that swept the US Capitol.

A day after four people died, one of them a rioter shot dead by police, and almost 70 were arrested in what President-elect Joe Biden termed “an assault on the citadel of liberty”, workers began the task of cleaning up the mess and damage left by the hundreds of people who swept into the building, having been urged on by the president himself.

Cleaning up the political mess created Mr Trump may be less simple: while he issued a middle-of-the-night statement vowing to adhere to an orderly transition, he may not have done enough to ensure he remains president to witness it.

On Wednesday, new articles of impeachment were drawn up against Mr Trump, while the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and House speaker Nancy Pelosi, called on vice president Mike Pence and his colleagues in the cabinet to set in motion section four of the 25th amendment to the constitution, that allows for the removal of the president if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

The most senior of a number of White House officials to walk out on Mr Trump, after the stunning scenes reverberations around the world, was transportation secretary Elaine Chao.

In a letter she said her resignation would take effect on Monday, just nine days before Mr Trump leaves office. She said the Capitol attack “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside”.

Former chief of staff says Trump cabinet should discuss 25th Amendment

Ms Chao was not simply member of Mr Trump’s cabinet, but also the wife of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has had an often tense relationship with the president. 

Critics accused Mr McConnell and other senior Republicans, figures who have previously claimed to be defenders of the constitution and a certain political civility, of permitting Mr Trump to ride unshodden over traditions because they have been able to tap into his loyal base to support Republican candidates.

Now, with the Republicans having lost control of the Senate after Democrats won both run-off contests in Georgia, and with Mr McConnell about to start a new job as minority leader, it remains far from clear where the load-bearing wall stands.

Mr Trump may have finally angered a sufficient number of Republican colleagues for them to voice concern about what happened, but the majority remain terrified of angering the president’s base. It was such a calculation that led the likes of senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, to support efforts to vote against certification of the electoral college.

As it was, after the rioters swept through the Capitol, overwhelming police who eventually fired tear gas to disperse them, they returned to their joint session and certified Mr Biden, the final step before he is inaugurated on 20 January.

The late night session was presided over by vice president Mike Pence, who Mr Trump had urged not to take part in the session, a final wild stab at stopping Mr Biden.

As it was, when he spoke after the late night session affirmed Mr Biden as the US’s next president, its 46th, Mr Pence had stern words for the rioters.

“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” he said. “As we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy, even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism in this Capitol.”

Another challenge for Mr Trump, for the next couple of weeks at least, will be his ability to use social media.

Facebook said it would block Mr Trump's accounts for at least the next two weeks until the presidential transition is completed and perhaps indefinitely – the most significant sanction of the president by any major social media company.

The decision by chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg comes after Facebook announced on Wednesday it would lock for 24 hours Trump's page, which has 35 million followers.

“We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” said Mr Zuckerberg. He said the ban would also apply to Facebook-owned Instagram.

Twitter and Snap Inc also temporarily locked the president’s accounts on Wednesday. Twitter said its freeze of @realDonaldTrump, which has more than 88 million followers, would last until 12 hours after Mr Trump removed three tweets. It has had a policy of blocking the president’s tweets that carry false information about the election result.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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