A growing corps of House Democrats, furious over the invasion of the Capitol on Wednesday by a mob inspired and encouraged by President Trump, is pushing to rapidly impeach the president a second time — hoping to force Trump from office even a few days early rather than allow him to leave on his own terms.
Removing Trump by constitutional means is a tall order for the 12 days remaining in his presidency, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not made a formal determination to move forward with a second impeachment, even as she consulted Friday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about curbing Trump’s ability to launch nuclear weapons.
Outrage over Wednesday’s events has grown to the point that it could be impossible for Pelosi to ignore, prompting a rapid vote as soon as early next week, according to interviews with House Democratic members and aides.
“We have a great sense of unity that we have a moral obligation to act,” said Rep. Daniel Kildee (Mich.), a Democratic deputy whip. “If we can shave any number of days of the threat this president represents off the calendar, we will have done public good, but there’s also another important aspect of this. . . . It would be a more accurate view of history if this president suffered the ultimate penalty for his crimes against his country, no matter how many days are removed from his tenure.”
Trump acknowledged Thursday that there will be a new administration Jan. 20 but has not shown any indication that he will resign before then.
Pelosi said Thursday that “Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment” if Vice President Pence did not act in concert with the Cabinet to remove Trump from office under the terms of the 25th Amendment. But she said she had no immediate plans to recall lawmakers to begin that process.
“If he wants to be unique and be doubly impeached, that’s kind of up to him and his Cabinet as to whether he should stay in office,” she said.
On Friday, she said in a letter to Democratic lawmakers: “If the President does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action.” She did not specify what that action would be.
In the letter, she also described speaking to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, “to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.” She further described Trump as “unhinged” and said lawmakers “must do everything that we can” to protect the nation from him.
One key Senate Democrat, however, warned against proceeding with impeachment — saying that he preferred that Trump resign or be removed through the 25th Amendment, out of concern that an impeachment trial could hamstring the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“We have to put our government together quickly — that’s the most important thing we should do,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). “We don’t need any more political theater.”
Pelosi is expected to lead a noon conference call of House lawmakers Friday to discuss next steps. Several Democrats said Friday that an impeachment vote could come together as soon as Monday or Tuesday if the decision is made to move forward.
“Donald Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from office immediately,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a tweet Thursday.
More than 60 House Democrats signed a letter late Thursday asking the three top House Democratic leaders to reconvene the House as soon as possible to “show the American people that Congress is continuing to meet its responsibilities in the face of extraordinary threats” and take action, including a possible impeachment.
“We are the only branch of government that is capable of governing this country and led by sane and competent people,” reads the letter, led by Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). “Going home and staying home until the eve of President Biden’s inauguration should not be an option.”
Two draft articles of impeachment have been circulated among House Democrats that cite Trump’s incitement of the mob and his delayed decision to encourage it to disperse as high crimes and misdemeanors necessitating removal.
“We just suffered the most massive, violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol in American history since the War of 1812,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), author of one of the drafts. “It is unthinkable to me that we would allow this simply to be, you know, one more unfortunate faux pas by the president. He has counseled and invited an attack on the Congress of the United States itself.”
No Republican House members have indicated that they would back impeachment. One, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), has called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump. Others have suggested that they would welcome Trump’s resignation or his removal under those circumstances.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told “CBS This Morning” on Friday that he could “consider” any impeachment articles forwarded by the House.
“He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” Sasse said. “He acted against that. What he did was wicked.”
While House Democrats could impeach Trump in the House on their own, removing him would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate — meaning 17 Republicans would have to join with the 50 Democrats that will be seated once Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are certified as the winners of last Tuesday’s Georgia runoffs.
Senate impeachment trials are governed by an intricate and lengthy set of procedures that could be difficult to waive. Trump’s first impeachment trial, which concluded in February, lasted 20 days.
Trump could still be impeached after he leaves office, most constitutional scholars say, which would have the effect of barring him from the presidency again. But there is a political barrier to proceeding with a Senate trial: the impending inauguration of Biden, and his need to rapidly confirm a Cabinet.
A lengthy impeachment trial could obstruct efforts to staff Biden’s administration and prepare to govern amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as well as dire circumstances abroad, including a simmering threat from Iran.
Biden has not weighed in on a possible impeachment.
The House could have other options to take action in the coming days. Raskin has written a bill to create a commission on presidential disabilities to prepare for action under the 25th Amendment, and other House Democrats have called for censure of GOP lawmakers for inciting violence.
“We need every tool in our constitutional tool kit on the table to deal with the crisis,” Raskin said. “I believe we should work on parallel tracks to defend the government and the people of the United States.”
Pelosi on Thursday did not raise the disruption a Senate trial could cause but said that impeachment represented “the overwhelming sentiment of my caucus and the American people.”
“My phone is exploding with impeach, impeach, impeach,” she said. “The president must be held accountable again.”