A small but growing chorus of Republican lawmakers are backing plans to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump in a historically unprecedented move following a pro-Trump mob’s violent breach of the U.S. Capitol complex on Jan. 6.
If the House passes impeachment articles, Trump will be the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, even though the vote comes just days before he leaves the White House and the path to an impeachment vote in the Republican-controlled Senate to remove him from office remains unclear. No other president who has faced impeachment—Bill Clinton or Andrew Johnson—has faced charges as severe: “willful incitement of insurrection.” The vote is expected Wednesday afternoon.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third highest-ranking House Republican, announced her support for an impeachment vote in a statement blaming Trump for the mob violence that led to five deaths and dozens of injured police officers.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing,” Cheney said. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Four other House Republicans so far have said they would support Democrats’ calls for impeachment: Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; John Katko of New York, and Fred Upton of Michigan.
On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in doubling down on baseless claims that the election was stolen from him and inciting the mob that ransacked the Capitol. Facing widespread political backlash, Trump eventually condemned the violence and pledged an orderly transition process but refused to disavow his debunked claims of election fraud.
While it’s far from a critical mass, the new voices backing impeachment have laid bare deep fissures in the Republican Party that have been simmering behind the scenes since Trump took office. Yet the pro-Trump faction remains strong: Even after the violent assault on the Capitol, 147 Republican lawmakers still voted to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s big electoral victory.
The political showdown comes as federal authorities announced a massive investigation into sedition and conspiracy by some of the pro-Trump rioters and begin piecing together exactly how the Jan. 6 violence came to be. Some lawmakers have indicated that the scale and scope of the plans by rioters could have been much worse than what was initially understood.
Some Trumpist House members have swiftly issued calls for Cheney to resign as chair of the House Republican Conference. “She doesn’t represent Republican voters by supporting this political witch-hunt impeachment of President Trump,” said freshman Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been a vocal proponent of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote—and pass—articles of impeachment on Wednesday. From there, it will go to the Senate, where impeaching Trump and removing him from office will require a two-thirds majority. Even with McConnell signaling his support for impeachment, it remains unclear whether Democrats can secure 17 Republican “yes” votes on impeachment. It’s also unclear whether there’s enough time left in Trump’s term—or the Senate calendar—to try the president before he leaves office. It’s also unclear whether he can be tried after he departs.
One former U.S. federal judge, J. Michael Luttig, argued in a Washington Post op-ed that the Senate can only impeach a currently sitting U.S. president—not a former one—though other constitutional law experts disagree with that assessment.
Other Republican lawmakers have stopped short of backing impeachment but are calling for a censure of Trump for his role in inciting the violence at the Capitol, arguing the move would put on record Congress’s objections to the president’s actions without further inflaming partisan tensions through impeachment.
Vice President Mike Pence, who had a dramatic falling out with the president following his role in overseeing the certification of the electoral votes, rebuffed Democrats’ efforts to get him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows a president’s cabinet to remove him from office, triggering Wednesday’s impeachment vote.
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