WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach President Trump for inciting last week’s riot at the Capitol, delivering an extraordinary and bipartisan rebuke that makes him the only president in US history to be impeached twice.
Convening in a chamber that exactly a week earlier the mob had transformed into a crime scene, inside a newly militarized complex where windows are still pocked with bullet holes, lawmakers voted 232 to 197 in favor of impeachment. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats who led the charge, making it the most bipartisan of the nation’s four impeachments.
“Donald Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fear mongering, and sedition. Last Wednesday, on January 6, the nation and the world watched it shatter to pieces,” said House majority leader Steny Hoyer, concluding hours of tense debate. “There can be no mistaking any longer the kind of man sitting in the Oval Office, or his intentions and capabilities.”
The House’s swift repudiation after a violent mob breached the Capitol and led to five deaths is all but certain to divide Trump’s party and further stain his legacy, even if it will not force him out of office before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The Republican defections on impeachment — which included the number three House Republican, Liz Cheney — are a significant break from a party that has spent four years transforming itself into a vehicle for Trump’s ambitions. Their votes could be the first salvo in a broader effort by the party’s establishment to extricate its interests from Trump’s in the wake of last week’s riot — as well as the party’s humiliating defeat in two Georgia Senate races that cost it control of the chamber.
“I am not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid my country will fail,” said Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, explaining why she was voting in favor of impeachment.
“I am not choosing a side,” she said, “I am choosing truth. It is the only way to defeat fear.”
But most of Trump’s party stuck by him, even as they condemned the mob, highlighting how closely tied to him much of the rank-and-file remains. The article of impeachment, charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection,” will go to the Senate for a trial that seems unlikely to take place before Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, and could distract from action in the first weeks of Biden’s administration.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has not denied reports that he believes the president committed impeachable offenses and that he is looking for a way to flush Trump out of the party for good. If the Senate were to convict Trump, it could bar him from holding public office again.
On Wednesday night, the White House released a five-minute video of Trump calling on Americans “to overcome the passions of the moment.” But it made no mention of the impeachment that on Tuesday he called “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
“I want to be very clear: I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week,” he said, sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office on Wednesday. “Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement.”
Speaking on the floor of the House, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
But, like most House Republicans, he refused to back impeachment, and the day’s proceedings underscored how much of Trump’s party is not only still willing to defend the president, but to continue to amplify the lies about election fraud that drove the mob in the first place.
“There are still over 70 million people that support the president, and they feel disenfranchised,” said Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a Republican who has allied himself with the president. “You think you’re just going to impeach him and everybody’s going to, those tens of millions of people are going to forget?”
Wednesday’s proceedings unfolded in a surreal environment, a place still deeply shaken and physically altered by the violence. Military trucks secured roads blocks away from the Capitol, and the streets were filled with Secret Service officers, members of the National Guard, and police officers, all there to provide the security that was missing last week.
Inside the ornate halls of the Capitol, under 18th-century paintings, lay piles of gas masks and “escape hoods.” The Capitol Visitors Center, usually filled with tourists, had transformed into the temporary home for hundreds of members of the National Guard, who read, napped, or watched the impeachment proceedings on their phones.
“I just have this incredibly intense feeling of sadness,” said Representative Jim McGovern of Worcester, a Democrat, outside the House chamber. “This is the citadel of freedom and democracy here in the United States. . . . Only a few days ago, it was desecrated by a group of homegrown fascists and domestic terrorists.”
Behind him were new metal detectors — a measure implemented to protect lawmakers not from the public, but from each other.
Inside, lawmakers were on edge, riven by Trump, the specter of violence, and the risk of a deadly disease. At least three representatives have tested positive for the coronavirus after they sheltered in place during the riots with Republicans who were not wearing masks. On Wednesday, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts announced her husband had also tested positive after being with her at the Capitol that day.
Pressley, who tested negative but still was isolating, cast her vote by proxy and said impeachment was only the first step toward accountability for last week’s attacks.
“Our work is not done,” she said in an interview. “We need to expel the members who were complicit in this big lie, who have been carrying the water for this cruel and corrupt and criminal administration, and then we need to investigate.”
“Donald Trump is not alone in his culpability,” she said. “He’s not the only one with blood on his hands.”
Democrats turned to impeachment after first passing a resolution urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump — something he said he would not do.
“They came here to hang the vice president for treason, to assassinate the speaker, to hunt down members of Congress, they did tremendous damage,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, one of the authors of the impeachment article, after the vote. “This president is a clear and present danger to . . . the well-being of the American people.”
Trump had used his Twitter feed to urge his supporters to come to Washington last week — “will be wild,” he wrote — and then he addressed them at a rally near the White House shortly before the attack.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said, urging his supporters to make their way to the Capitol, where they pushed and beat police officers, breached barriers, and overran the building where the nation makes its laws, coming within seconds of taking over the Senate chambers with lawmakers still on the floor.
One Capitol Police officer was killed during the attack. A rioter was shot fatally by police and three others died of medical emergencies.
“He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government,” the article of impeachment said. “He therefore betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the United States.”
For Tom Rice, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, Trump’s lack of contrition around the riots seemed to have pushed him over the edge.
“I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years,” Rice said in a statement. “I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But, this utter failure is inexcusable.”
On the House floor, Trump’s defenders cast the effort to impeach him as a rushed and overly partisan process.
“If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted,” said Tom McClintock, of California.
The dynamic was plainly frustrating to Democrats, who seemed to be trying to confront the fact that the threat Trump poses to democracy will not dissipate with his impeachment, or even his exit from the White House.
“How do we find any common ground with the 40 percent of people who still believe the president?” said Representative Ro Khanna of California. “You can kick him off Twitter, you can impeach him, you can hold him to account. But that’s not the way to break through to a huge population.”
Still, the Democrats who led the first effort to impeach Trump, in late 2019, said something felt significantly different now.
“I think there’s a much broader recognition in this moment of the existential threat this president presented,” said Representative Adam Schiff, of California. “I think it’s been very important that Republicans have spoken out. And I look at impeachment as part of the beginning of the restoration of democracy after four years of peril.”