U.S. President Donald Trump has been impeached an unprecedented second time, on this occasion charged with inciting last week’s deadly attack on the Capitol building as he sought to overturn his re-election defeat.
The House of Representatives passed a single article of impeachment, “incitement of insurrection,” on Wednesday, with 10 Republicans breaking with the President to join all Democrats in voting for the measure.
While Mr. Trump has just under a week left in his term, legislators are hoping to bar him from ever holding federal office in the future. He will face trial in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds vote to convict.
“He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House at the start of the two-hour debate, standing in the same chamber that was a target for the mob exactly one week earlier.
The extraordinary sanction marked another stain on Mr. Trump’s rollercoaster presidency, with a string of legislators lining up to accuse him of attacking democracy. Rioters last week laid siege to Congress as it met to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, a day of violence that left five people dead.
Mr. Trump was previously impeached in late 2019 for putting pressure on Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election. He was acquitted by the Senate last year.
Mr. Trump released a video Wednesday evening condemning the insurrection. “Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country, and no place in our movement,” he said from the White House. Then, he criticized social-media companies for shutting down his accounts after the storming of the Capitol. Their actions, he said, were an “unprecedented assault on free speech.”
Mr. Trump has refused to take responsibility for causing the riot, saying Tuesday that his speech to the crowd directly before the attack was “totally appropriate.”
The impeachment unfolded in a Capitol newly fortified against fresh threats by armed militias and other extremists. The building was surrounded for several blocks by security fences. Thousands of National Guard members were billeted in the hallways of the legislature, patrolling or sleeping as Congress debated.
Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, became the top legislator from her party to back impeachment. In a statement before the debate, she said Mr. Trump “lit the flame of this attack.”
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said.
Ms. Cheney joined a long string of people and organizations to turn on Mr. Trump and his party after the violence. Numerous major corporations have cut off campaign donations to Republicans who challenged the election, Twitter and Facebook have suspended his account and a stream of cabinet members and staffers have quit the administration.
In a letter to his caucus, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said he did not yet know how he would vote in the trial. He said proceedings would start after Mr. Biden takes office next week.
The House could delay sending the article to the Senate to give the upper chamber time to work on Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda before turning to impeachment. However, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said before the vote that the article will be sent over quickly.
Mr. Trump’s support in the House remained solid, giving an indication of the difficulty his critics will have in mustering enough Republican senators to convict him. With Democrats holding 50 of 100 Senate seats, they would need 17 Republicans to join them.
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy conceded that Mr. Trump was to blame for the riot. But he argued that the President should not be impeached because it could trigger more violence. He urged Democrats to spare Mr. Trump in the name of healing and unity.
“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” Mr. McCarthy said. “A vote to impeach will further divide this nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames.”
Other Republicans said Mr. Trump had done nothing wrong, and warned they would seek to punish Democratic officials in retaliation.
“Cancel culture will come for us all,” warned Jim Jordan of Ohio. Florida’s Matt Gaetz attacked the “Biden crime family” and Black Lives Matter. Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia, a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory, accused Democrats of “endorsing and enabling violent riots” for supporting anti-racism protesters.
Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana congressman set to join Mr. Biden’s White House, said some Republican members “may well be co-conspirators” in the riot. In the days after the insurrection, Democratic members of Congress Tim Ryan and Mikie Sherrill said they saw Republicans giving tours to people in the building the day before the storming.
In the event Mr. Trump is not convicted in the Senate, Congress could try to use the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to bar him from holding office again. But this would require a separate process.
Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert at Harvard University, said Congress would have to create a procedure for finding that Mr. Trump had taken part in “insurrection or rebellion” against the country. “To bar Trump from holding office again if the Senate doesn’t convict him, we would need further legislation,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The riot was the culmination of a two-month-long effort by Mr. Trump to have Mr. Biden’s victory thrown out. The President repeatedly accused both Democrats and fellow Republicans of having rigged the election for Mr. Biden, and put pressure on officials to reverse it. In one episode, he threatened to have Georgia’s top election official prosecuted if he did not “find” more votes for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump exhorted supporters to come to Washington last week – “Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted – then told them at a rally to descend on Capitol Hill as legislators gathered to certify the election. “Fight like hell,” Mr. Trump told the crowd.
Three U.S. presidents have been impeached, and another faced impeachment proceedings, but Mr. Trump is the first to be impeached twice.
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