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Democrats are calling for impeachment following Trump-incited riot. Some Republicans want ‘unity’ instead

Rioters breached the US Capitol on Wednesday.
Rioters breached the US Capitol on Wednesday.Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

After years of President Trump peddling conspiracy theories, failing to denounce hate groups like the “Proud Boys,” and now a violent attack that he incited on the US Capitol, Republicans are asking for “unity” instead of the accountability that Democrats are seeking — including a possible second impeachment.

Less than a year after Trump was impeached by the House — and later acquitted by the Senate — Democrats are again pushing to remove him from office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Democratic members Saturday night in which she said Trump must be held responsible, but did not make a formal declaration that impeachment would be pursued.

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But she urged her caucus to “be prepared to return to Washington this week.”

“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”

Both Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have been making calls to allies, asking that they help fight against a potential impeachment by issuing statements in support of the president, the Washington Post reported.

Removing Trump from office through impeachment may be a challenging task for lawmakers given the short period of time and apparent lack of support from Republicans in the Senate.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey are the only Senate Republicans to call for the president’s resignation, while Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said he would consider impeachment.

Toomey said Saturday on Fox News that while he thought Trump “committed impeachable offenses,” he did not know “what is going to land on the Senate floor, if anything.” In television interviews on Sunday morning, he solidified his position, and said Trump’s resignation is the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rear view mirror for us.”

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But several prominent Republicans — among them Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee — condemned Democrats over the weekend for considering impeachment as a possible move to hold Trump accountable for the role he played in the mob violence, accusing those calling for consequences as furthering divides in the nation.

Brady acknowledged the incendiary nature of Trump’s “rhetoric this week” but said those pushing for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment are “themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence.”

“They are placing a desire for vengeance above the best interests of the country,” Brady said. “President-elect Joe Biden is right to reject calls to go down this dangerous path which will only further divide the country.”

Norm Eisen, a senior fellow with Brookings Governance, said Brady’s argument is “like saying those calling for criminals to be arrested are advocating the use of force, which could result in further violence.”

“Society cannot function if there is no accountability for crimes — including high crimes,” Eisen said.

A small cohort of GOP lawmakers who had voted to certify Biden’s win has also signed a letter asking him to “formally request that Speaker Pelosi discontinue her efforts to impeach President Trump a second time,” Colorado Representative Ken Buck said.

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Buck said the move was in the “spirit of healing and fidelity to our Constitution.”

In response to the letter Buck shared on Twitter, Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat, posed the question: “Through the lens of conservatism I ask, how can we have healing without accountability and fidelity to the Constitution without consequence?”

Meanwhile, historians and political scientists told the Globe that Wednesday’s events — an insurrection encouraged by Trump himself, and the objection of 147 Republican lawmakers to certifying Biden’s win even after the riot — laid bare two truths about the country.

The protests against the Electoral College vote — an effort led by Cruz and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley in the Senate — demonstrated that some of the most politically powerful were willing to undermine a central tenant of a functioning democracy: accepting when their party has lost and working with the respective winner.

Cruz, who has not acknowledged the role his move to lead a group of Senate Republicans in rejecting Electoral College votes may have played in Wednesday’s violence, said the siege on the Capitol “was a horrific assault on our democracy.”

He then accused Biden of using “vicious partisan rhetoric” that only “tears the country apart” because of the president-elect’s comparison of Cruz and Hawley to Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s top propagandist.

“At a time of deep national division, President-elect Biden’s choice to call his political opponents literal Nazis does nothing to bring us together or promote healing,” Cruz said.

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New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shot back at Cruz, pointing out that the rioters “wore Auschwitz shirts, erected gallows, and tried to hang the Vice President.”

“Your continued excusal and denial of Wednesday’s Neo-Nazi presence is abhorrent and dangerous,” Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat, said. “The most healing and unifying thing *you* can do is take responsibility for your actions and resign.”

While it appears a peaceful transition of power will occur on Jan. 20 — Trump acknowledged his defeat for the first time in a video Thursday in which he also condemned the violence he incited — the fragility of the nation’s democracy was exposed.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been a staunch supporter of Trump and only broke with him Wednesday night on the Senate floor, said he believed that “impeachment would further destroy our ability to heal and start over.”

Graham said Trump “moved the country in the right direction last night with his statement” and, like Brady and Cruz, placed the onus on Biden — rather than the president himself or Congress — to correct course.

“The radical liberal Democrats’ never-ending desire to keep the conflict going needs to be addressed by President-elect Biden,” Graham said. “President-elect Biden has the power to do something about this for the good of the country if he chooses. I hope he will. It will take actions, not words, to bring the country together.”

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The same people who Trump appeared to praise on the day of the chaotic riot — hundreds of primarily white supporters of the lame duck president — and the act of insurrection they committed, historians said, can be traced back to a history of far-right extremism and white supremacy.

Similar events could bubble up again and escalate into greater violence, according to academics, which several Democrats referenced in their stance to move forward with impeachment proceedings.

Ocasio-Cortez said elected officials who are “urging for no serious consequences after Wednesday’s attack on our country — including the impeachment, removal, expulsion, and/or indictment of officials who aided, abetted, or incited the attack — are opening the door for it to happen again.”

“There is no ‘healing’ from this without accountability. And there is no ‘unity’ with white supremacists,” she said. “You know the President’s state has devolved dangerously. If you’re too weak to do anything about it, you’re too weak to serve.”

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar said even if Trump only has days left in office, it is “important to impeach [and] convict” him.

By doing so, the progressive Democrat said, a precedent will be set.

“We must make it clear that no president can lead an insurrection against the [US] government,” Omar said. “What we do today will matter for the rest of this nation’s history.”

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who studies coups and right-wing authoritarians, voiced agreement with Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats who warned of further violence without consequences for Trump.

“If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker [and] Trump [government] official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021,” Ben-Ghiat said.

Several Massachusetts Democrats — including Representative Katherine Clark, Representative Jim McGovern, and Representative Ayanna Pressley — also weighed in on the discussion, lambasting their Republican colleagues’ use of the words “unity” and “healing.”

Responding to Buck’s letter, McGovern said “healing” requires three things: action, courage, and accountability.

“We won’t heal America by absolving from personal responsibility those who sow division to overthrow our Constitution,” he said.

Assistant Speaker Clark said that there is one thing that “unites us all as a nation” — the Constitution.

“[T]here’s nothing more unifying than standing together to defend it,” she said.

Pressley said with “every hour that passes” since a “white supremacist mob attacked the US Capitol at the direction of the Occupant of the White House,” a dangerous precedent was being set for democracy.

“Impeach now,” she said.


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.