In a heavily fortified U.S. Capitol building, a majority of bipartisan members of the House voted in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday, accusing him of inciting an insurrection last week at the very building in which the lawmakers cast their votes.
Following the 232-197 vote on the single article of impeachment, Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. What distinguished the second impeachment from the first one, though, was that this time 10 Republicans cast the “yea” vote while none of the House GOP members crossed the party line last time.
TRUMP IMPEACHED AGAIN
“The resolution (of impeachment) is adopted. Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced while gaveling the vote down.
“I sadly and with a heart broken over what this means to our country, of a president who would incite insurrection, will sign the engrossment of the article of impeachment,” Pelosi said after the vote, speaking behind a lectern which photos showed was removed last week by a rioter from its original place in the House chamber. Kicking off the debate over the article of impeachment earlier in the day, Pelosi said the president “incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country,” citing the Capitol riot by Trump loyalists last week. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” she added.
In a statement published on Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden said the riot “carried out by political extremists and domestic terrorists, who were incited to this violence by President Trump” was “an armed insurrection against the United States of America.” For those Republicans who opposed impeaching Trump, few of them defended the president.
They argued instead that the Democrats were rushing to remove the president without due process and at a time when Trump will hand over the presidency to Biden in merely a week.
They accused the Democrats of further dividing the country. “They’re rushing to judgment in my opinion and bringing up impeachment after failing to follow any meaningful process whatsoever,” said Tom Cole, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, during the debate. “No hearings have been held. No witnesses heard, no process or opportunity to respond was provided to the president.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy acknowledged that Trump “bears responsibility for (last) Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” but stressed that “impeaching the president in such a short timeframe would be a mistake.”
He called for national unity, saying “we must seize this opportunity to heal and grow stronger.” The impeachment resolution cited Trump’s speech to supporters on Jan. 6 that was followed by some of the crowd breaching the Capitol building to interrupt Congress’s certification of the 2020 election results as evidence of his “incitement of insurrection.”
On top of that, the president’s repeated claims of voter fraud in the election, as well as his Jan. 2 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to press him to “find enough votes” to overturn the state’s presidential election results, were also mentioned in the resolution as proof that Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” that he “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government.”
What’s more striking than Trump’s history-making second impeachment is that the divide his four-year term has brought to the country may last well beyond his departure.
Signs of this lasting effect have already been evident during the fallout of the Capitol riot. The president’s diehard allies in Congress continued to press ahead with overturning the election results even after the rioters put them under siege, while the Democrats not only demanded his removal this time, but also sought to ensure that he is never capable of holding any public office in the future. “It’s painful and frustrating for the country,” Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College, told Xinhua in comments on the impeachment. “I don’t think impeaching Trump fixes that.”
SENATE TRIAL NOT EXPECTED SOON
With Trump being impeached, all eyes have turned to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will decide when to hold the Senate trial that will determine the president’s fate. McConnell, who on Wednesday tried to cool down the heat of previous media reports saying he was pleased with the impeachment and believed it was a good option to purge Trump from the Republican Party, issued a formal statement rejecting an early trial in the Senate, which is now in recess. “The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President.
The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the article from the House,” read the statement. “Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week.”
On the part of the Democratic Party, Pelosi didn’t respond directly to questions about her plan for transmitting the article of impeachment to the Senate, as some Democrats floated the idea of delaying the process until after 100 days into the Biden presidency so that some of the incoming president’s cabinet nominees could be confirmed timely by the upper chamber.
Biden also expressed the hope that “the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” giving examples ranging from confirmations to key posts such as secretaries for homeland security, state, defense, treasury, and director of national intelligence, to getting our vaccine program on track.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who failed in his effort to request that McConnell reconvene the chamber early in accordance with legislation passed in 2004 giving majority and minority leaders emergency powers to do so, issued a statement insisting that there will be a trial, and that “if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
Trump was impeached by the House in December 2019, with two articles of impeachment charging him with “abuse of power,” and “obstruction of Congress” over his dealings with Ukraine.
He was acquitted by the Senate, in which the number of senators supporting his conviction failed to reach the required two-thirds majority. GOP Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a longtime Trump foe, was the only one in his party who voted to convict the president then.
This time around, although it remains unclear if as many as 17 GOP senators would back the impeachment article — thus crossing the high bar of convicting and ousting the president — at least some of them have signaled the willingness to consider the article, among them senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
McConnell kept open the possibility of him supporting the conviction, saying Wednesday he was undecided and still awaiting “legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
As for banning Trump from running for president again, which came to the spotlight after the Democrats demanded it in the current impeachment resolution, analysts said achieving that goal could be time-consuming.
Depriving Trump of the chance for future presidential campaigns is based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which disqualifies federal and state officeholders who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office again.
Daniel Hemel, professor at the University of Chicago Law School, delved into the historical context of the 14th Amendment in a recent analytical piece carried by The Washington Post, weighing the pros and cons of each of a series of specific pathways toward forbidding Trump from seeking public service during the rest of his lifetime. “It is true that Congress potentially can use the amendment to bar Trump from future office, but the process will very likely take several steps and years,” he wrote.
Noting that enacting a new law would be a preferred option if the goal is to invoke the Section 3 penalties, Hemel said the legal action could not even get started unless and until Trump declares his next presidential bid. “So if Trump seeks the White House in the next election, the legal process might not even begin until 2023.”