WASHINGTON – With just seven days remaining in his term, President Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice.
The House of Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach the president for “inciting an insurrection against the government of the United States.”
“He must go – he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said as she opened the House floor debate over the single article of impeachment.
In a break with the president, 10 Republicans voted with the 222 Democrats to support the article of impeachment. Most announced ahead of time how they would vote. Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said he would not whip members into voting against impeachment.
The impeachment article will move to the Senate for a trial. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said he will not reconvene the Senate prior to the middle of next week, meaning the trial would occur during the opening days of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
Based on Senate procedures and precedents, McConnell said in a statement late Wednesday, “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,” he added. “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.”
On a day that started with photographs of National Guard members sleeping in the halls of the United States Capitol Visitor Center, an emotional House debated the president’s role in last week’s violence, which followed Trumps’ remarks at a rally repeating baseless claims that the election was stolen from him and encouraging attendees to “show strength” as they walked to the Capitol.
The National Guard is expected to maintain a significant presence in the nation’s capital ahead of inauguration celebrations and potential further protests next week.
Democrats will gain control of the Senate later this month. Biden is reportedly seeking a method to split the Senate’s time between an impeachment trial and other agenda items, including a package of COVID relief.
A New York Times report on Tuesday said McConnell is “pleased” by impeachment and its potential effects on the Republican Party’s ability to distance itself from the president.
On Wednesday McConnell sent a letter to Senate colleagues saying he had not yet decided how to vote in an impeachment trial but would “listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.” That is markedly different from the Republican leader’s stance during last year’s impeachment trial of Trump, when McConnell opposed it from the start.
In her floor speech, Pelosi retraced Trump’s lies about voter fraud since the election in November and connected them to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by an insurrectionist mob, which led to the immediate deaths of five people, including a United States Capitol Police officer.
Pelosi said the president must be impeached for his role in motivating the rioters.
“They did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here by the president with words such as a cry to ‘fight like hell,’” Pelosi said. “Words matter. Truth matters. Accountability matters.”
Pelosi responded to calls for unity from Republicans by urging adherence to the facts.
“Our country is divided. We all know that. There are lies abroad in the land spread by a desperate president who feels his power slipping away,” Pelosi said. “I know this as well: that we here in this house have a sacred obligation to stand for the truth.”
The debate was closed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who drew a contrast between the ideals of Abraham Lincoln and those of the current president.
“His desire for autocracy and his glorification of violence have not been tempered, but rationalized – rationalized by those who sought to profit financially and politically from their proximity to power,” Hoyer said of Trump.
Hoyer commended Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, and the third-ranking member of GOP leadership, for her support for impeachment. He quoted extensively from a statement Cheney released Tuesday which read, in part: “The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, led the Republican opposition to impeachment. He and other Republicans drew false equivalency between the riot at the Capitol and Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
“Republicans have been consistent,” Jordan said. “We’ve condemned all the violence all the time.”
Jordan also portrayed the impeachment debate as part of an ongoing effort to remove the president that began in the first days of Trump’s term. He also dubbed the proceedings part of “cancel culture.”
“If it continues it won’t just be Republicans who get canceled. It won’t just be the president of the United States,” Jordan said. “The cancel culture will come for us all.”
Republicans speaking in opposition to impeachment drew a contrast with previous impeachments, which included longer investigations and committee hearings.
“I cannot think of a more petty, vindictive and gratuitous act than to impeach an already defeated president a week before he is to leave office,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California.
But Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington scolded his fellow GOP colleagues and later, with nine other Republicans, voted with the majority for impeachment.
“Others including myself are responsible for not speaking out sooner, before the president misinformed and inflamed a violent mob,” he said.
In response to Republican requests for a broader investigation, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, pointed to the public nature of the president’s remarks at the rally proceeding the violent insurrection last week.
“Today, we don’t need a long investigation to know the president incited right-wing terrorists to attack the Congress, to try to overturn constitutional government,” Lofgren said. “The actions were in public, plain as day.”
While Republicans sought to distance insurrectionists from the mainstream of their party, Democrats attempted to connect the riot to what they said was long-standing rhetoric from the president.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, highlighted the white supremacist elements of the Capitol attack, which included the display of the Confederate battle flag.
“We have a duty to observe… that racism played a direct role in this incitement,” Nadler said. “The president’s violent rhetoric is always at its most fevered pitch when he’s talking about the civil rights and civic aspirations of Black Americans and other minority communities.”
Nadler’s remarks came after new details emerged from Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts about their experiences during last week’s riot.
Ocasio-Cortez said during an Instragram Live Tuesday she “had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die.”
Pressley’s chief of staff, Sarah Groh, told the Boston Globe that she tried last week to use the panic buttons installed in Pressley’s office to summon help, but found they had been torn out.
Several Democratic House members pointed to their traumatic experiences, telling their stories of hiding in the gallery of the House chamber.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, said he fears for the next week in Washington, pointing to reports that more violence is planned in support of the president.
“Intelligence reports indicate that the people (Trump) said he loves and are special are going to attack this city and attack this Capitol next week,” Cohen said.
Trump responded to those reports Wednesday ahead of the impeachment vote. In a statement, he said: “I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind.”
After the House vote, Trump released a video in which he said: “All of us can choose by our actions to rise above the rancor, and find common ground and shared purpose.”
Earlier in the day, the House debated and then approved a rule for consideration of the impeachment resolution. No Republican members voted in favor of the rule, signaling early the party would mostly stand by the president.
Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, said in an MSNBC interview that some of his Republican colleagues wanted to vote in favor of impeachment.
“A couple of them broke down in tears, saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment,” Crow said.
Politico’s Tim Alberta reported that some members of Congress have received death threats this week and the threats may have affected votes on impeachment.
CNN reported that Republicans were under “huge pressure” from the White House to oppose impeachment.
During the rule debate ahead of the impeachment article, Hoyer emphasized the importance of Congress as a check on the executive branch.
“There are consequences to actions, and the actions of the president of the United States demand urgent, clear action by the Congress of the United States,” he said.
The House on Tuesday approved a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to use the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence has said he will not implement the amendment.