Trump impeachment: Congress kicks off historic week of votes against president

House set to impeach president for a second time in a little over a year in what US political correspondent Griffin Connolly writes is ‘Accountability Week’ in Washington

Griffin Connolly
Tuesday 12 January 2021 00:29 GMT
Nancy Pelosi calls Trump 'deranged, unhinged, dangerous'

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Louise Thomas

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As Donald Trump crawls to the finish line of his presidency, Democrats in the House are embarking on an historic week of resolutions to hold him and Republicans accountable for inflaming the extreme right wing with lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, a movement that boiled over into a violent insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday.

The president’s “Accountability Week” will commence in earnest on Tuesday at approximately 19.30 local time [00.30 GMT]. That’s when the House will vote on a resolution calling for vice president Mike Pence to remove and replace Mr Trump as president by invoking the 25th Amendment.

The vice president and his boss did not speak for a week after the Trump-incited insurrection at the Capitol, where Mr Pence was the target of assassination threats as he was presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify president-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

But on Monday night, after they met in the Oval Office, Mike Pence pledged to work with Mr Trump “for the remainder of their term”, indicating that he is unlikely to pull the trigger on removing Mr Trump through the advice and consent of the president’s Cabinet.

As a last resort, Democrats will move forward with impeaching Mr Trump on Wednesday. The House will convene at 9am to consider one article of impeachment against the president that accuses him of “incitement to insurrection” against the US government.

The congressmen who drew up the impeachment resolution have indicated they already have enough votes within the slim Democratic majority to pass it.

Unlike Mr Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019, this one is likely to have some bipartisan support.

On Monday, as many as 10 House Republicans, including GOP conference chairwoman Liz Cheney, were considering voting in favour of impeachment as well, Politico reported.

Freshman GOP congressman Peter Meijer said in a video posted to his Twitter account on Monday that he is “strongly considering” impeaching Mr Trump.

“What we saw on Wednesday left the president unfit for office,” Mr Meijer said.

Timing concerns for Senate trial

After some internal debate about when to transmit the ratified impeachment resolution to the Senate, Democrats appear poised to execute the handoff as soon as possible, House majority leader Steny Hoyer indicated.

Usually that would trigger an immediate trial in the Senate, although this year’s circumstances are complicated: the Senate is not scheduled to come back in town until 20 January - Mr Biden’s inauguration day.

Constitutional scholars and jurists have given conflicting opinions in recent days on whether a former president can be put on impeachment trial in the Senate.

Retired federal appeals court judge and former Republican assistant attorney general J Michael Luttig has made the constitutional argument that if the Senate is to convict Mr Trump and bar him from holding office in the future, it would have to do so before he leaves office.

“The Senate's power under the constitution is only to convict (or not) an incumbent president,” Mr Luttig wrote in a Twitter thread on the topic on Monday.

To avoid such questions of constitutional process, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer is “exploring using the authority granted to the two Senate leaders in 2004 to reconvene the Senate in times of emergency, to allow for a potential trial to begin immediately after articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate,” a senior Democratic aide told The Independent.

Such a move would require the assent of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who will become minority leader later this month when Georgia Democratic Senators-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are sworn in.

Republicans falling in line

While Mr McConnell has yet to indicate how he would approach a Senate trial, several Republican senators have already begun lining up in opposition to Mr Trump’s imminent impeachment.

Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi both voted to certify Mr Biden’s electoral victory last week after the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in an apparent coup attempt where they interrupted the certification proceedings, menaced lawmakers, and ransacked the building.

But impeaching and removing Mr Trump for his role in inciting the mob is something they just can’t stomach for the country, the senators explained on Monday.

“In light of president Trump’s Thursday statement pledging an orderly transfer power and calling for healing in our nation, a second impeachment will do far more harm than good,” Mr Graham tweeted, referring to a video posted to the president’s since-shuttered @realDonaldTrump account last Thursday promising a peaceful transition to a Biden administration.

Mr Trump shortly regretted releasing that video statement, the New York Times has reported, and has vowed not to resign in the coming days nor fade quietly into political oblivion in the coming years.

Still, Mr Graham is taking the president at his word from Thursday’s video, the one statement Mr Trump has released that runs counter to dozens upon dozens of previous sets of remarks urging his supporters to “fight” back against a “stolen election”. Roughly 90 federal judges — including Supreme Court justices — have ruled against Mr Trump and Republicans’ challenges to the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, saying there is virtually no evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr Graham cited the short timeline of impeachment and a subsequent Senate trial as one of the reasons he would not be supporting it.

“I’m disappointed to hear the House is proceeding with a second impeachment given there are only nine days left in a Trump presidency. It is past time for all of us to try to heal our country and move forward. Impeachment would be a major step backward,” the South Carolina Republican wrote.

Mr Wicker outlined a similar mindset for opposing impeachment, and it’s certainly one shared by most Senate Republicans.

Some in the GOP have signalled, however, that they are open to impeaching and removing the president over the coming days, arguing that he is too unstable to lead the executive branch and must face consequences for his actions over the last several months that fuelled the insurrection at the Capitol last week.

Five people have died as a result of the riot, including a US Capitol Police officer.

Many lawmakers feared for their own lives. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has written in a recounting of Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol that Mr Trump “incited [the insurrectionists] in the first place”.

The House impeachment article officially condemns Mr Trump for “incitement to insurrection”.

GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have both called upon Mr Trump to resign, although their stances on impeachment and removal are unclear.

Senator Ben Sasse has said he would consider removing Mr Trump at an impeachment trial. The Nebraska Republican has called Mr Trump’s actions last Wednesday “wicked”.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney was the only Republican to vote to convict Mr Trump at his first impeachment trial. He has not said how he would vote at a second impeachment trial.

Accountability for ‘sedition caucus’

While Democrats in Washington have coalesced around a plan to try to hold Mr Trump accountable for his actions last Wednesday and throughout the post-election period, they have not formed a cohesive path forward on punishing House and Senate Republicans who echoed his anti-democratic rhetoric and fuelled the riots.

Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, two of the president’s most strident allies in the “stop the steal” movement, have already faced scathing editorials from their hometown newspapers calling on them to resign.

So have congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama and the dozens of other Republicans — 147 in total — who voted against Mr Biden’s electoral victories in two states at last week’s certification.

Democratic members Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida introduced a resolution on Monday formally censuring Mr Brooks for delivering an inflammatory speech to the mob shortly before it descended on and overran the Capitol.

The Alabama congressman’s speech “encouraged and incited violence against his fellow Members of Congress, as part of an assault on the United States Capitol intended to prevent the House of Representatives and the Senate from discharging their constitutional duties to count electoral college votes,” Mr Malinowski and Ms Wasserman-Schultz’ censure resolution states.

But that one-off censure of Mr Brooks from two Democratic members does not reflect broad agreement within the party on whether to reprimand everyone in the so-called “sedition caucus” — or how strongly to reprimand them.

“It is ad hoc right now,” a House Democratic aide told The Independent of Congress’ plan to condemn its own members’ words and actions surrounding the 2020 election results and the Capitol riots last week.

“Everyone [is] struggling with it even within offices,” the aide said.

The most extreme proposal introduced this week was brought forth by Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush, a freshman member of the progressive cohort of members of colour known as “The Squad”.

Drawing on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the US constitution, Ms Bush’s resolution would mandate the House “investigate and expel the GOP members of Congress who attempted to overturn the election and incited a white supremacist attack”, the congresswoman said on Monday.

Such an effort to expel those GOP members from Congress would fail, as it would require two-thirds of the chamber to vote them out.

Republicans control enough seats to block an expulsion manoeuvre.

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