Late afternoon on Wednesday, President Donald Trump made history, yet again. For his role in instigating last Wednesday’s bloody pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, the House of Representatives voted to impeach this president for the second time in roughly a year, making Trump the only president in American history to get impeached twice.
But for all the historic weight of the day, the Trump White House remained mostly quiet, drained of energy and much of its personnel. The president drifted in and out of the Oval Office, monitored the impeachment process on TV, and found time to award a medal to country singer Toby Keith. But by the time the sun fell on Washington, the president had yet to make a public appearance or emerge to pelt insults at the reporters on the premises. He couldn’t rage-tweet about the latest impeachment or the Republicans on Capitol Hill who had gone along with it, because Twitter had already taken his Twitter away. And his staff was a husk compared to what it was just over a week ago, following a series of high-profile resignations from the administration last week and a steep plummet in morale in the building since the deadly riot. Some West Wing brass, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, have spent recent days purposefully keeping a distance from Trump, as various advisers live out the final moments of the era by attempting to avoid triggering the president’s temper or making matters worse, somehow.
While photographers, reporters, and staff gathered at the White House, the president was sealed off by his aides, kept out of sight from the press. Even for Trump’s feel-good arts medal ceremony held in the East Room, the cameras were barred. A U.S. Marine who kept appearing, then disappearing, at the entrance to the West Wing multiple times was practically the only indicator of Trump’s whereabouts. (The Marine typically stands guard at those doors when the president is in the Oval Office.)
And all around Trump and much of the city, the signs were clear that life would go on without him, as an abundant presence of law enforcement and military personnel set up shop in the district in an effort to contain whatever mayhem or political violence that could happen during the week of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Near the West Wing on Wednesday afternoon, a moving truck parked in a White House lot, with people wheeling and lugging out and packing in boxes of materials and belongings, just as the current Trump era entered its final seven days of existence and as staff pondered their next career moves in the shadow of a uniquely reviled and scandalous commander in chief.
“Today was a quiet day [in part] because that is what everyone wants,” the senior White House official said. “If we can keep things quiet and event-free between now and the Biden [inauguration] that’s a victory.”
According to three people familiar with the situation and a senior White House official, virtually no one has any fight left in them; there’s less than a week left before Democratic President-elect Biden takes over, and most top administration officials are simply running out the clock. Though Trump is demanding that Republicans in the Senate do not break from him on this, and privately ranting that the ones who do will live to regret it, there is nothing in place compared to the infrastructure or establishment network that he enjoyed the last time he got impeached.
Two sources familiar with the matter said that in recent days, Trump is still going on and on behind closed doors about Dominion voting machine conspiracy theories and how he won in a landslide and therefore Biden is an illegitimate president. (None of the president’s claims there are true.) The president has also said that he’ll now make the polite-sounding public statements that his staff has drafted for him about a “smooth” transfer of power, but has repeatedly—sometimes unprompted—ruled out making any statements that Biden won, emphasizing that he will “never” admit such a thing. Biden’s decisive 2020 victory is “bullshit,” Trump has added, that “everyone” knows is a fiction.
Again, Biden clearly won the election and there were no massive voter-fraud conspiracies that Trump, his lawyers, and Republican heavyweights have been lying about for months.
When the Trump-Ukraine impeachment process and trial occurred a year ago, the entirety of the GOP and Team Trump’s vast machinery was wall-to-wall calibrated to run heavy interference for their leader and to try to cast the process as a liberal witch hunt, waste of time, and joke. This year, there wasn’t anyone laughing. Along with the handful of GOP lawmakers who joined the Democratic members on Wednesday, there were far fewer prominent Republicans who were willing to publicly go to bat this time around for the Trump brand name. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the soon-to-be former Senate majority leader and a former key Trump ally and longtime enabler on the Hill, wouldn’t even commit on the record to voting to acquit in a Senate impeachment trial.
On Wednesday night, Trump and his loyalists were reduced to wielding a generic Twitter video to defend themselves. In filming it, however, they made sure to leave some crucial details on the cutting room floor.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the White House posted to its official Twitter account a prerecorded, roughly five-minute video of Trump, during which the president did not mention impeachment, nor did he acknowledge that he clearly lost the 2020 presidential election fair and square. Trump claimed he “unequivocally” condemns “the violence that we saw last week.”
In the video, the outgoing president claimed that “no true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence,” when many obviously did and do. He said that “no true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement,” when a large mob of his super-fans had just last week perpetrated the rioting that killed a Capitol Police officer. Trump insisted that no supporter of his would “threaten or harass their fellow Americans,” when several powerful Republicans on Capitol Hill spent the week whispering to one another that they didn’t want to vote to impeach the president largely because they feared doing so would cause Trump devotees to try to kill their families.
The president also played the Both-Sides card, denouncing the “too many riots, too many mobs” since the summer and Black Lives Matter wave of mass protests, and he reiterated his prior statement calling for a stand-down on violence and vandalism during Biden’s inauguration next week so that the “transition can occur safely and without incident.”
Trump also claimed he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by last Wednesday’s Capitol “calamity,” and insisted that the American people “will get through this challenge,” without admitting that he specifically had caused the disaster and crisis.
The president, fresh off of his social media bans and his Twitter confiscation, made sure to throw in a dig at the supposed “assault” on “free speech,” and the “cancel” culture that was irritating him so much during his final days in office before the Biden era kicks off.