WASHINGTON — House lawmakers, still shocked and angry after a mob of President Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol last week, are poised to impeach him for a second time in a little over a year on Wednesday.
The move would make Trump the first president in US history to be impeached twice, but the House vote alone would not result in removing him from office before his term ends next week.
Some Democrats, including President-elect Joe Biden, had shown hesitance in recent days about taking the House impeachment step, worried that a Senate impeachment trial could dominate his first days in the White House while unlikely to lead to Trump’s removal before his term ends. But House Democrats say impeachment is an obligation after the frightening and anti-democratic violence of Wednesday, when Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol and “take back” their country.
“Whether impeachment can pass the United States Senate is not the issue,” Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, told reporters on Monday. “The issue is, we have a president who most of us believe participated in encouraging an insurrection and attack on this building and on democracy in trying to subvert the counting of the presidential ballot.”
The article of impeachment unveiled Monday accuses Trump of “engaging in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States,” and highlights his incendiary comments to the crowd before they assaulted the Capitol, resulting in five deaths.
Democrats are pursuing multiple avenues to investigate and punish Trump and others involved in the attack, including impeachment, a separate resolution expected to pass Tuesday calling upon Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, and an investigation into how the security breach happened. Another Democratic member has introduced a bill that would investigate and expel lawmakers who also helped incite the riot.
If Pence does not act within 24 hours to remove Trump, Democrats say, they will go ahead with an impeachment vote on Wednesday, which is expected to easily pass.
Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark said many members were traumatized after they were trapped on the House floor last week, fearing for their lives and the lives of their staff. That experience has strengthened their resolve to demand accountability, she said.
“What has emerged out of that is a caucus that is determined to use every tool we have to remove this dangerous president from the Oval Office,” said Clark, a Melrose Democrat.
The outrage among House Democrats mirrors the emotions of many Democratic voters and activists, who have rallied behind the impeachment push.
Meagan Hatcher-Mays, the director of democracy policy at the liberal grass-roots organization Indivisible, said her organization’s members are “horrified” by the events of last week and immediately called for impeachment — even knowing it likely would not result in Trump’s removal from office.
“There’s probably a lot of people who think, ‘Why bother,’ because he’ll be gone by then, but it really is about holding Donald Trump accountable for his participation in this seditious event,” she said.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the Senate would not return to Washington until Jan. 19, which means the earliest an impeachment trial could begin would be on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day — right when Biden will begin to need the Senate to approve his nominees.
That timeline appeared to initially worry Biden, who suggested on Friday that impeachment would come too late in Trump’s term to be effective and that a trial could interfere with his goals.
“If we were six months out, we should be moving everything to get him out of office — impeaching him again, trying to invoke the 25th Amendment, whatever it took to get him out of office,” he told reporters in Wilmington, Del.
But growing anger among constituents around the country — as well as rank and file lamwakers’ own anger and dismay at what they experienced last week — has lit a fire under House leaders and Biden.
On Monday, Biden said that it was critically important for those who engaged in the riot to “be held accountable.” He said he was speaking to congressional officials about the possibility of splitting the Senate’s time between an impeachment trial and confirmations and action on other pieces of his agenda.
“Can we go half day on dealing with impeachment, and half day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate as well as moving on the package?” Biden asked.
House Democrats hope some Republicans will vote for impeachment, but so far none has officially signed onto the push.
“It’s clear that Republicans writ large have no interest in holding Trump accountable for his role,” said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who supports impeachment.
That lack of GOP interest doesn’t bode well for the possibility of a conviction in the Senate, which takes a two-thirds majority vote in a body that will be narrowly controlled by Democrats.
A conviction by the Senate opens the door to far more substantive punishments than the symbolic impeachment measure, such as barring Trump from running for office again and stripping him of the perks to which ex-presidents are entitled. The Senate, by a majority vote, can disqualify him from future office.
Michael Steel, a Republican political consultant who used to work for former House speaker John Boehner, said that he believes many Republicans would “dearly love to eliminate the president from future consideration” for office but that doing so would be politically untenable.
“Given the timing and the president’s lack of a functioning sense of shame, it’s tough to see what can be done practically,” he said of the effort to remove Trump from office.
Hatcher-Mays said it would be a “huge relief” if the Senate were to actually convict Trump and vote to bar him from office as well, though she is not holding her breath given the silence or defensiveness of many Republicans.
Indeed, very few Republicans have connected the mob violence on Wednesday to the president at all, much less embraced his impeachment. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told McClatchy an impeachment trial will “further divide us” and Democrats should focus on a positive agenda instead. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said he was “done” with Trump after the riot, tweeted on Monday that impeachment was not necessary because Trump finally said in a video message that he would participate in a peaceful transfer of power last week.
“I do not understand how they look in the mirror and live with themselves,” Clark said of many of her GOP colleagues’ refusal to demand accountability after the attack.
At the end of the day, deprived of meaningful support from Republicans, the House may be able only to render what would amount to a symbolic judgment — that in its view, Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors.
“Doing nothing is no longer an option,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Harry Reid when he was Democratic Senate majority leader. “I for one would have no problem just going through the impeachment process in the House with the understanding that when his obituary is written, the first paragraph will say, ‘He was the first president to be impeached twice.’”