House Reads Trump Riot Act With Second Impeachment
Unlike President Trump's first impeachment, this one was supported by several House Republicans.
In his final week in office, President Donald Trump finally earned himself a superlative distinction for the history books: the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives was still voting but crossed the threshold needed to impeach Trump on one charge of “incitement of insurrection,” seven days after the president egged on a violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results and then harm—or kill—top officials in the federal government. The impeachment vote took place on the very floor where, on Jan. 6, lawmakers, staff, and reporters huddled, fearing for their lives as armed extremists attempted to fight their way in.
Unlike the first impeachment, the second included Republican support—including from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). The third-ranking House Republican said in a Tuesday night statement that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
The willingness of even a few House Republicans to fully break with an outgoing president, increasingly eschewed by his party’s leadership since Jan. 6, is a striking difference between this impeachment and the last one. In December 2019, when the House voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power after he used U.S. military aid to compel a foreign government to do him a favor, no Republicans supported impeachment.
The passage of the article of impeachment now puts the spotlight on the U.S. Senate, which is required to promptly conduct a trial and a vote on Trump’s removal. But the chamber is scheduled to be out of session until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and an agreement between party leaders, Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), would have been needed to bring senators back for an emergency session. According to The Washington Post, McConnell has told Schumer he will not agree, all but ensuring a trial will not begin until after Biden is sworn in.
But even though McConnell declined to call back the Senate early, he left the door open to supporting impeachment himself.
“While the press has been full of speculation,” he said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, referring to a Tuesday New York Times report that indicated McConnell was ready to kick Trump to the curb, “I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
The point of proceeding in the Senate even after Trump’s departure from office is to render impeachment’s other punishment: a lifetime ban on holding federal office, which nearly all Democrats—and some Republicans—believe Trump richly deserves after his role in last week’s violence.
One of them, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), laid out the change plainly. “I’m not afraid of losing my job,” she said from the House floor, “but I am afraid my country will fail.”
The overwhelming majority of the House GOP conference, however, did not believe Trump was worthy of the rebuke—even if its leaders were willing to admit he fueled the violence. "The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—a simple, but notable, acknowledgment of fact from Trump’s most influential Capitol Hill ally over the last four years.
Nevertheless, McCarthy—who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the mob swept the Capitol—advocated against impeachment, saying, “Here is what a vote to impeach would do: it would further divide this nation, it would further fan the flames of partisan division.” He suggested instead a bipartisan investigation of the events of Jan. 6 and a vote to censure the president.
Before McCarthy spoke, the president’s most vocal defenders took to the House floor in a display of his enduring grip on much of the party. They argued that impeaching Trump would flout appropriate congressional procedure and, at the very least, would prevent the country from necessary healing—even though just days ago many of them amplified the very conspiracies that prevented post-election healing and fueled the Jan. 6 violence.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump on Monday due to his service to Trump, ticked through a list of his accomplishments as president. “They want to cancel the president,” said Jordan, who is backing an effort to expel Cheney from GOP leadership because of her support of impeachment.
Another Trump ally, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)—who reportedly was in contact with organizers of the “stop the steal” rally—delivered an ominous warning that moving forward with impeachment would make Trump a “martyr” and lead to even more strife. “Do not douse the remaining embers of this movement with gasoline,” said Biggs.
In the middle of the House’s debate, Trump—banned from Twitter—issued a statement through the White House press office urging “there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers."
Shortly after it was issued, Jordan read the missive on the House floor.
Democrats, for their part, urged their GOP colleagues: if Trump’s role in inciting the riot didn’t do it for them, what would? "He must go,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
Other lawmakers mocked Republican claims that now was, in fact, the time to move on. "It's a bit much to be hearing that these people wouldn't be trying to destroy our government and kill us if we weren't so mean to them,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), set to be the lead Democrat prosecuting the case against Trump in the Senate.
And some Democrats couldn’t help but draw a line to the last impeachment. "Simply put, we told you so,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who will soon be taking a top post in the Biden administration. “Richmond out."
The article of impeachment that the House approved came together while its authors were sheltering together in their offices during Wednesday’s attack. Democrats quickly coalesced around one count of incitement of insurrection; the final draft, introduced Monday, simply stated that Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government… interfered with the peaceful transfer of power… and imperiled a coequal branch of government.” The resolution went straight to the floor on Wednesday, preceded by none of the formal hearings that accompanied Trump’s last impeachment.
A report released Tuesday night by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, the traditional committee of jurisdiction for impeachment, laid out the timeline of Trump’s encouragement of the Jan. 6 rally, his lead role in fomenting the election conspiracies that inspired the attack, and his inability to condemn the insurrectionists or call them off. “It is indisputable that the President encouraged—and that his actions foreseeably resulted in—the terrorist attack that occurred,” read the report.
The Judiciary Committee report also laid out the basis for an impeachment that Republicans decried as yet another unfounded witch hunt, despite the plain evidence strewn about the broken U.S. Capitol just a week later.
“Impeachment is not a punishment of prior wrongs, but a protection against future evils. It is true that the President’s remaining term is limited—but a President capable of fomenting a violent insurrection in the Capitol is capable of greater dangers still,” read the report. “He must be removed from office as swiftly as the Constitution allows. He must also be disqualified to prevent the recurrence of the extraordinary threat he presents.”