Democrats Threaten Impeachment if Pence Won’t Act After Capitol Siege
WASHINGTON — The top Democrats in Congress gave Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet a jarring ultimatum on Thursday, threatening to undertake another impeachment if they did not invoke the 25th Amendment and strip President Trump of his powers after he incited a mob of his supporters that violently overtook the Capitol.
On a day when lawmakers quite literally picked up the pieces of a Capitol vandalized in the president’s name as they met to formalize his election defeat, support was rapidly building among Democrats to take drastic action to punish Mr. Trump by any means possible, despite just 13 days remaining in his term. Though they raised practical concerns, even some members of the president’s party appeared newly open to the long-shot idea, which could bar Mr. Trump from ever again holding office.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York made Mr. Pence their primary target, ratcheting up public pressure on him to use the 25th Amendment to wrest power from Mr. Trump for the remainder of his term.
By Mr. Schumer’s account, the two leaders waited on hold to speak with Mr. Pence about the matter for nearly half an hour Thursday morning, only to be told he would not come to the phone. Ms. Pelosi later indicated that they expected a statement of his intentions, one way or another, within a day and would be prepared to move forward with impeachment if necessary.
“This is urgent. This is an emergency of the highest magnitude,” she told reporters at the Capitol, calling Mr. Trump’s actions “seditious” and shaming members of the cabinet by name for not intervening. “While it’s only 13 days left, any day can be a horror show for America.”
She said her phone was exploding with colleagues demanding, “Impeach, impeach, impeach.” It was a stark difference from her posture in 2019, when Ms. Pelosi resisted for months the idea of impeaching Mr. Trump, concerned that it would be a futile exercise that would divide her party.
“I don’t care if you’re Democrat, Republican liberal, conservative, from the Northeast, South or West,” Mr. Schumer told reporters in New York. “If what happened yesterday doesn’t convince you that the president should be out of office now, then something is very wrong with your beliefs about democracy.”
Democratic lawmakers and aides cautioned they were not yet ready to commit to pursuing the Constitution’s most extreme remedy. Just a year after charging the president with abuse of power and obstructing Congress for his attempts to pressure Ukraine’s leader to smear his political rival Joseph R. Biden Jr., House leaders are keenly aware of the logistical and political hurdles to doing so. No president has ever been impeached twice.
They were also wary of rushing into a decision after an emotionally fraught 48 hours with little sleep. Ms. Pelosi sounded out members of her leadership team Thursday afternoon and scheduled a caucus conference call for Friday to discuss next steps.
Under one school of thought being discussed among top House and Senate Democrats, the House could impeach Mr. Trump in the waning days of his term and the Senate could hold a trial immediately after President-elect Biden is sworn in and his party takes working control of the chamber.
Modern presidential impeachments have been monthslong affairs. But under House rules, an impeachment resolution can be given privileged status, meaning it could be approved in only a couple of days’ time.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urged prompt action.
“We have a limited period of time in which to act,” Mr. Nadler said. “The nation cannot afford a lengthy, drawn-out process, and I support bringing articles of impeachment directly to the House floor.”
House lawyers were still researching whether a former president could be impeached or tried after leaving office. But precedent suggested the answer was yes. The House impeached President Ulysses S. Grant’s war secretary in 1876 for graft, even after he resigned from his post, and the Senate proactively determined that it still had authority to hold a trial. It did so, and the secretary was ultimately acquitted.
Mr. Schumer, who is on track to become the Senate majority leader after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, was adamant it could be done.
“We don’t need a lengthy debate,” he said. “The president’s abuse of power, his incitement of a mob against a duly elected representative body of the United States is a manifestly impeachable offense.”
They conceded that conviction by the Senate, which would require a two-thirds majority, including 17 Republican defectors, remained a long shot. But some Democrats and Republicans privately reasoned that an impeachment had other benefits. If the Senate were to vote to convict, it could then proceed to bar Mr. Trump from ever holding federal office again, stamping out any prospect of him running in 2024, a possibility that some Republicans privately dread.
Among those pushing leaders toward the idea were some of the House’s most outspoken progressives, including Representatives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and key moderates whose support for last year’s impeachment was crucial.
“We must as a country demonstrate that this kind of behavior is beyond the pale,” Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former national security official who represents a red district, said in a statement. “I’d prefer cabinet officials to take action, but will be ready to consider other steps, such as impeachment, in the short time we have left.”
A group of Democrats on the judiciary panel, led by Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, began circulating charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” They included a single count, “abuse of power,” based on Mr. Trump “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States” in an effort to overturn the results of a democratically decided election. The articles also mention an explosive phone call by Mr. Trump pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” him the votes he needed to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory there.
Other articles written by Ms. Omar had roughly 60 co-sponsors, she said.
A handful of Republicans likewise sounded open to drastic action, though they discounted impeachment for practical reasons. Some Democrats similarly argued that it might not be worth the trouble of assembling and arguing a case with so little time left in office for Mr. Trump.
Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, called on Mr. Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, posting on Twitter that the president had become “unmoored not just from his duty or from his oath but from reality itself.”
Representative Tom Reed, Republican of New York and co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, argued that the impeachment process could backfire at a time when the nation appeared to be headed for a peaceful transfer of power after Mr. Pence and Congress ratified Mr. Biden’s victory.
“You still have to remember there’s millions of Americans out there filled with this anger,” Mr. Reed said. “We did something last night. We completed the Democratic process when it was under attack by mob rule.”
All but one Senate Republican voted to acquit Mr. Trump when he stood trial in the Senate last year, and it remained murky on Thursday how much sentiments may have changed.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the soon-to-be minority leader, spoke sternly on Wednesday about Mr. Trump’s unhinged campaign to overturn the election results, and many Republican senators were enraged by the violence he fanned. Privately, party aides speculated that a bloc of several senators could conceivably vote to convict the president if the right case was put before them.
But doing so would thrust onto the party a complex political, constitutional and ethical calculation. In deciding whether to object on Wednesday to the Electoral College results, Republicans had to choose between obligations to the Constitution and the potential political costs of crossing Mr. Trump. A vote to convict him and potentially bar the most popular figure in their party from running again would be magnitudes more complicated.
And there would almost certainly be intense opposition among Republicans who remain loyal to Mr. Trump. More than 120 of them in the House voted on Wednesday and early Thursday morning to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory in key swing states, arguing that the election had been stolen from Mr. Trump.
Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.
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