Congressional leaders on Friday deliberated over how to take decisive action on the unprecedented assault on the Capitol and how to prevent similar assaults on the American democratic system from ever happening again.
House Democrats appeared likely to impeach President Trump, which would make him the first president in the nation’s history to be impeached twice. They released the text of the single article of impeachment they plan to introduce Monday, for incitement of insurrection.
Specifically, the article charges Trump with making “statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol.”
“Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced members of the Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts,” the article states.
Democrats say they want to remove Trump from office despite the fact that he will be a private citizen in less than two weeks.
“The priority is to remove a clear and present danger for the [White House] … to protect the country,” a House Democratic leadership aide told Yahoo News. “Politics be damned.”
President-elect Joe Biden avoided calling for Congress to impeach Trump, saying, “That’s a decision for the Congress to make. I’m focused on my job.” But one senior Biden aide, Rep. Cedric Richmond, told a reporter that the president-elect did support impeachment.
But to remove Trump requires the Senate, where Republicans will control the majority for the next week or two. And so Senate Republicans will play a decisive role in deciding what happens next.
If enough Republicans approve, the Senate could vote to convict Trump and remove him from office before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Alternatively, the Senate could take up the impeachment proceedings but continue deliberating after Biden’s inauguration. At this point, no later than Jan. 22, Democrats will control the Senate and determine the chamber’s agenda. But they would still need at least 17 Republicans to join them to convict Trump, since impeachment requires a two-thirds majority.
If the Senate convicted Trump after he leaves the presidency, he would no longer be eligible to hold public office. But there is a lack of clarity over whether this is allowed under the Constitution. In 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned in scandal, but the House still went forward with impeachment. Yet “Belknap was not convicted, in part because some senators doubted their authority to do so,” according to Keith Whittington, a professor of political science at Princeton University.
Or the Senate could take up legislation focused squarely on blocking Trump from holding public office in the future. That has never happened, or even been attempted, with a former president.
Multiple well-placed sources told Yahoo News that there was ongoing discussion among Senate Republicans about what might be the wisest course of action.
“It is a very fluid situation,” said one Republican outside the Capitol who is in regular contact with multiple GOP senators. The source said that among Senate Republicans “there is more openness [to impeaching] than I would have imagined, but I’m not sure they would pull the trigger.”
“The visceral experience of Wednesday, of being under attack, has them in a very angry place and open to things they would never have considered before,” the source said. “But with 12 days to go, there is real hesitance to set the precedent of a quickie removal, and some think it would only strengthen Trump, give him the show he wants.”
Former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., echoed this concern. “What would happen if an impeachment proceeding started? His base would rally to his cause. And so, while I hear that, and certainly under the circumstances that type of discussion is warranted, the fact is all that would do is strengthen him,” Corker told a reporter.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., made a similar point. He told CBS News that he would “definitely consider whatever articles [the House] might move because I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office. … What he did was wicked.”
But Sasse also noted that “the most important question is the prudential one of how we bring the country back together 5 and 10 and 15 years in the future. And there’s a lot to be hashed out there.”
A different source connected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that one challenge was the fact that senators had left Washington on Thursday after voting early that morning to certify the election results, hours after a mob of Trump supporters assaulted the Capitol in a rampage that resulted in five deaths, including one Capitol Police officer.
If someone had urged lawmakers to stay in D.C. and move quickly on impeachment, it might have begun much more quickly, the source said.
The challenge is multifaceted. Congressional leaders in both parties want to prevent Trump from causing violence or catastrophe between now and Biden’s inauguration, and some want to block him from ever holding public office again — but without making him politically stronger in the process.
The events of this week demonstrated Trump’s ability to summon and control a mob with a few words sent out from his phone. And even if social media companies have clamped down on his ability to do so — Facebook shut down his page indefinitely and Twitter announced Friday evening that it would permanently suspend him from the platform — it is not difficult for the sitting president to communicate with his supporters.
Beyond Sasse, the only Senate Republican to make a statement about their intentions was Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She called on Trump to resign and signaled that if the GOP does not take decisive action to rebuke him, she might leave the party.
“If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me,” she told the Anchorage Daily News.
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