Donald Trump’s presidency is set to torment America up to and even beyond his final hours in power with Democrats moving inexorably towards making him the first President to be impeached twice after he incited a mob assault on Congress.
The horror of last week’s attack on the citadel of US democracy is only growing as frightening new details emerge of the chaos and anarchy inside the US Capitol and fears mount of more violence by radicalized Trump supporters and right-wing extremists in the run-up to Joe Biden being inaugurated as the 46th president next week.
Trump’s actions have again put the nation on the traumatic path of impeachment – an always contentious process that leaves its own bitter legacy of political pain. Before Trump came to Washington, only two Presidents had been impeached in the near two-and-a-half century history of the United States. He is now staring at the shameful distinction of being impeached by the House of Representatives twice in just over a year – a sequence that will leave a deep scar in Washington for a generation – not least because despite his aberrant behavior, Trump retains strong support among Republican lawmakers because of his near mystical hold on the party’s populist base.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats will first implore Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the President unable to fulfill his duties. If, as expected, Pence and the Cabinet balk at that step, Democrats will again unleash the inexorable machinery of impeachment less than a year after Trump’s previous acquittal of high crimes and misdemeanors in a Senate trial.
Democrats introduced a resolution to impeach Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection on Monday morning.
The single charge points to Trump’s repeated false claims that he won the election and his speech to the crowd on January 6 before pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol. It also cited Trump’s call with the Georgia Republican secretary of state where the President urged him to “find” enough votes for Trump to win the state.
Trump White House
But the compressed calendar as Trump enters his last nine days in office – and the reticence of Republicans in the Senate, who are faced one again with a loyalty test they have always failed when choosing between Trump’s base and the Constitution – seems certain to thwart Democratic efforts to quickly eject Trump from power. This means the drama surrounding Trump’s fate, and the possibility of another Senate trial, could outlast his presidency and his turbulent term could cast a toxic shadow over President-elect Joe Biden’s first days in office.
The aftershocks of the breaching of the US Capitol are being exacerbated by disturbing new accounts and footage of alarming scenes inside the insurrection that suggested an even worse tragedy was only narrowly averted.
But it was also an eerily quiet weekend. For the first time in years, Americans were spared the extreme rhetoric and tantrums of Trump’s Twitter feed after the social media platform muzzled the President over fears of more violence.
As he begins his last full week in office, Trump is scheming to reclaim his megaphone with plans for a trip to visit his border wall — a concept that was one of the earliest precursors of his divisive presidency. The White House is also readying a new attempt to rein in big social media firms that have purged Trump after his inflammatory posts. And Trump is expected to unleash new and controversial pardons that may further test the rule of law before his time is up.
Pelosi: Trump is an ‘imminent threat’
Critical mass is building in the House behind the Democratic drive to impeach Trump over his extraordinary assault on the US political system last week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to seek unanimous consent Monday morning for a resolution calling on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare Trump is no longer fit to carry out his duties.
In the almost certain event the gambit fails, she will call the House back for a full vote on Tuesday. Should Pence not act within 24 hours, Democrats will embark on the historic path towards a second impeachment.
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. “As the days go by, the horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this President is intensified and so is the immediate need for action.”
Democrats are justifying the unprecedented push for a second impeachment on the grounds that after his most flagrant abuse of power yet, Trump presents a stark danger to the country and the world and must be removed immediately. Another motivating factor is that a conviction in a Senate trial would likely bar Trump from ever seeking public office again. They parry critiques that such a late-term impeachment would be academic by arguing that Trump’s crime against the Constitution cannot go unpunished.
Fears Biden’s first days in office will be bogged down
But the complications of the timeline threaten to undercut the impeachment push. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a memo that the unlikelihood of securing unanimous consent to break a Senate recess meant that, practically, the earliest date a Senate trial could begin would be January 20, the day Biden takes the oath of office and control of the chamber will switch after Democrats won to Georgia runoffs last week.
While it may seem strange that Senate rules would take precedence over a moment of rare national peril, this would mean Democrats would spend the start of a new presidency burning days or even weeks seeking to convict a President who has already left office. That scenario would not only complicate Biden’s hopes of quickly turning Trump’s poisoned page in US history, it would slow a desperately needed economic relief package and an effort by the new White House to muster a national fight against a pandemic that is worsening by the hour amid fears of a new more transmissible mutant strain of the coronavirus and the Trump team’s misfiring vaccine rollout.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn suggested a workaround for that contingency on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, when he said Pelosi may not immediately transmit one or more articles of impeachment to the Senate to trigger the process of a trial.
“It just so happens that if it didn’t go over there for 100 days, it could – let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running, and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that,” the South Carolina Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
This approach would satisfy the imperative Democrats feel to inflict serious costs on the President for his shocking conduct.
But it would undercut their rationale that the peril posed by Trump is so acute that he must be removed now with only a week or so left in the White House. It also seems doubtful that the passage of three months would make it any more likely that sufficient Senate Republicans would join Democrats in building the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump.
And a trial, possibly featuring the President’s unmoored attorney Rudy Giuliani, would give Trump the opportunity to emerge from effective internal exile in Florida and corral the GOP behind him in what might turn into a circus.
Still, the strength of Democratic outrage is such that it may be impossible for Pelosi or Biden to hold off an impeachment vote — even if it would cause logistical and political problems down the line.
Pence holding 25th Amendment in reserve
There is no sign that Pence, despite being the target of pro-Trump rioters who chanted that he should be executed, is ready to lead an attempt to invoke the 25th Amendment. Sources have told CNN, however, that he is holding the option in reserve in case the President — from whom he is now estranged — resorted to more extreme action. CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that Pence and his aides are hoping to provide a bridge to the Biden administration and to offer the incoming team as much help as possible in dealing with the pandemic.
CNN’s Jeff Zeleny reported Sunday that Biden’s team is working to find a middle ground to avoid the early days of his presidency being bogged down by another Trump impeachment. While Biden is not standing in the House’s way, his team is also floating a possible censure of the President by Congress, through the impeachment train seems to be steaming off down the tracks.
There is more backing within the House Democratic caucus for impeaching Trump now than there was in 2019, Pelosi has told her members. Among Republicans, Trump’s malevolent behavior last week is further dividing the party.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, who has the luxury of criticizing Trump since he is not seeking another term, said the best solution would be for the President to resign.
“I think at this point, with just a few days left, it’s the best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rearview mirror for us that could happen immediately. I’m not optimistic it will,” Toomey said on “State of the Union.”
Toomey said he thought that Trump had committed impeachable offenses but was unsure if a viable process to convict him was possible.
The Pennsylvania senator said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his colleagues like Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas needed to resort to soul searching after supporting Trump’s “big lie” that he won the election.
“That’s going to … haunt them for a very long time,” Toomey said.
Many other Republicans were silent on Trump’s behavior, as a flurry of conservative commentators appeared more concerned at a sudden loss of Twitter followers. It was unclear whether the departures were the result of purges against extremists by social media firms or if Trump supporters quit platforms in solidarity with their banned leader.
While many Democratic senators have expressed support for an attempt to remove Trump, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia cautioned that judicial rather than political punishments were the correct response to Trump’s insurrection.
“Joe Biden, first thing he needs to do, put his people in, get them confirmed. That should be the first thing we’re doing the first week. And then get people vaccinated, and then get people back to work and get businesses opened up,” Manchin said on “State of the Union. “He’s got an awful lot on his plate right now. And I’m not sure that the impeachment route is the way that he can put that back together.”
Maneuvering on Capitol Hill unfolded against a backdrop of regular arrests as the FBI and local law enforcement officials tracked down the brazen perpetrators of an assault that resulted in five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer. An Iowa man named Doug Jensen, for instance, who allegedly led a mob after a Black police officer in the Capitol, is among many now facing federal charges. Shocking new details, meanwhile, emerged of the narrow escape some lawmakers had from the onrushing mob. And stories are still coming out about threats and violence perpetrated against journalists in the chaos.
Trump, however, is showing no sign of repentance. He only ordered the flag on top of the White House to half-staff to honor slain Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick on Sunday after a barrage of media criticism. Another officer who was in the fray on Wednesday, Howard Liebengood, died while off duty and was also honored. The cause of his death has not be released.