Trump becomes only president to be impeached by House twice, charged with 'incitement of insurrection'
WASHINGTON - The House on Wednesday voted to impeach President Donald Trump, charged with "incitement of insurrection" over the deadly siege of the Capitol by his supporters in his final days in office.
Trump is the only U.S. president in history to be twice impeached.
The House voted 232-197 to impeach him, with 10 Republicans breaking with the party to join Democrats. The proceedings came one week after the violent, pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol, sending lawmakers into hiding and revealing the fragility of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power. Five people died, including a Capitol police officer.
President-elect Joe Biden released a statement Wednesday evening following the impeachment.
"This criminal attack was planned and coordinated. It was carried out by political extremists and domestic terrorists, who were incited to this violence by President Trump," Biden wrote. "It was an armed insurrection against the United States of America. And those responsible must be held accountable."
"Today, the members of the House of Representatives exercised the power granted to them under our Constitution and voted to impeach and hold the president accountable. It was a bipartisan vote cast by members who followed the Constitution and their conscience. The process continues to the Senate," Biden continued.
Biden noted that the nation still remains in the grips of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and a reeling economy.
"I 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," Biden wrote. "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, and to getting our economy going again. Too many of our fellow Americans have suffered for too long over the past year to delay this urgent work."
In his statement, Biden did not take a position on whether the Senate should convict Trump after the bipartisan House vote that charged the outgoing president with inciting the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol last week as Congress convened to certify Biden’s presidential election.
The Capitol insurrection angered lawmakers, who had convened for a joint session to tally the Electoral College votes certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win. Members of Congress were sent scrambling for safety as the mob stormed the building, with several forced to shelter in place with maskless colleagues amid the coronavirus pandemic.
At least three House lawmakers have since tested positive for the virus, prompting concern that last week’s insurrection has also turned into a super-spreader event threatening the health of lawmakers and their staffs.
The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign "and domestic."
"He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love," Pelosi said of Trump.
Trump has taken no responsibility for the riot, suggesting it was the drive to oust him rather than his actions around the bloody riot that was dividing the country. In his first public appearance since the siege, Trump said Tuesday his remarks at the rally prior to the siege, in which he encouraged the mob of loyalists to "fight like hell" against election results, were "totally appropriate."
But during the proceedings, Trump issued a statement urging "NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind" to disrupt Biden's ascension to the White House.
In the face of the accusations against him and with the FBI warning of more violence, Trump said, "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."
Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit. He is the first to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.
The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell's office said.
The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.
McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats’ impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the president’s hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist, who demanded anonymity to describe McConnell’s conversations.
In a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had "not made a final decision on how I will vote."
Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.
Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol.
In making a case for the "high crimes and misdemeanors" demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes which was the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.
Among the 10 Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach was Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney, whose father is the former Republican vice president, said of Trump's actions summoning the mob that "there has never been a greater betrayal by a President" of his office.
With the team around Trump hollowed out and his Twitter account silenced by the social media company, the president was deeply frustrated that he could not hit back, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
From the White House, Trump leaned on Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to push Republican senators to resist, while chief of staff Mark Meadows called some of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
The president’s sturdy popularity with the GOP lawmakers’ constituents still had some sway, and most House Republicans voted not to impeach.
Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricade the door from rioters.
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"We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.
Other Republicans argued the impeachment was a rushed sham and complained about a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.
Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, "Every movement has a lunatic fringe."
Yet Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. and others recounted the harrowing day as rioters pounded on the chamber door trying to break in. Some called it a "coup" attempt. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., contended that Trump was "capable of starting a civil war."
Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., explained his vote to impeach on Twitter, saying Trump encouraged "masses of rioters to incite violence."
"President Trump was, without question, a driving force in the catastrophic events that took place on January 6 by encouraging masses of rioters to incite violence on elected officials, staff members, and our representative democracy as a whole," Valadao wrote.
Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to "go away as soon as possible."
Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down his first days in office, Biden is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID-19 relief while also conducting the trial.
The impeachment bill cites Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.
The House had first tried to persuade Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke their authority under the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence declined to do so, but the House passed the resolution anyway.
The impeachment bill also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to "find" him more votes.
While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.