Democrats barreling towards Trump impeachment for position in Capitol siege

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: 2020 U.S. presidential election in Washington D.C.

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By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives plan to impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday unless he steps down or is removed before then, after drawing up charges accusing him of inciting insurrection ahead of last week’s siege of the Capitol.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his fellow Democrats the chamber would take up impeachment on Wednesday if Vice President Mike Pence does not respond to a request to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove Trump from office, a House aide said.

Passage would make Trump, a Republican, the only U.S. president ever to be impeached twice.

If he were impeached, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to convict and remove him from office, though it is unlikely the proceeding would be completed before Trump’s term expires in nine days. A conviction could also lead the Senate to bar Trump from holding public office ever again, ending his potential 2024 presidential bid before it begins.

Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the seat of Congress last Wednesday, forcing lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory into hiding in a harrowing assault on the heart of American democracy that left five dead.

The violence occurred shortly after Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol during a rally where he repeated false claims that his resounding defeat in the Nov. 3 election was fraudulent.

Democrats formally introduced their impeachment resolution on Monday, charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

“The President represents an imminent threat to our constitution, our country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

As the House convened on Monday, Republicans blocked an effort to immediately consider a resolution asking Pence to invoke the never-used 25th Amendment to remove an unfit president.

“The U.S. House must never adopt a resolution that demands the removal of a duly elected president, without any hearings, debate or recorded votes,” said Republican Representative Alex Mooney, who raised the objection.

The House is expected to vote on Tuesday evening on that resolution as Democrats seek to ramp up pressure on Pence and his fellow Republicans.

A Pence adviser said over the weekend that he is opposed to invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows a vice president and the Cabinet to remove a president who is incapable of fulfilling the duties of the job.

Trump acknowledged a new administration would take office on Jan. 20 in a video statement after the attack but has still not conceded that he lost the election.

Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ:) have suspended his accounts, citing the risk of him inciting violence.

SECURITY CONCERNS

Washington remains on high alert ahead of Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, which had already been scaled back dramatically because of the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Guard was authorized on Monday to send in up to 15,000 troops to protect the inauguration, and tourists were barred from visiting the Washington Monument due to threats of more violence from Trump supporters.

The FBI has warned that armed protests are being planned in the U.S. capital and in the 50 U.S. state capitals ahead of the inauguration, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The lawmakers who drafted the impeachment charge say they have locked in the support of at least 214 of the chamber’s 222 Democrats, indicating strong odds of passage.

Democratic Representative Diana DeGette said some Republicans have privately expressed support for impeachment.

“I heard from several Republicans over the weekend, making sure I was okay, and saying how outrageous this was, and they said that they think this is impeachable. So I think if this comes to the floor, I think you may well see some Republican votes,” she told reporters.

House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate voted not to convict him.

Even if the House impeaches Trump again, the Senate is not scheduled to return to Washington until Jan. 19. Recalling the Senate to conduct an impeachment trial before next week would require the consent of all 100 senators.

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has been exploring whether he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could call the chamber back into session themselves, using powers granted to them 17 years ago for use in times of emergency, a senior Democratic aide said.

Schumer’s office did not respond to a query seeking comment on whether the top Democrat and Republican had spoken about the possibility.

An impeachment conviction needs a two-thirds majority, which would require at least 17 Republican votes.

So far, only a handful of Republican lawmakers have publicly said they would consider voting for impeachment.

“It’s something we’re strongly considering at this point,” Republican U.S. Representative Peter Meijer, a freshman from Michigan, told a local Fox affiliate, adding that Trump’s actions had shown him to be “unfit for office.”

Other Republicans, however, have urged Democrats to abandon impeachment in the name of unity.

“Pushing partisan driven articles of impeachment through Congress days before the inauguration will further divide our country,” Montana Senator Steve Daines said in a statement.

Democrats will take Senate control once the winners of Georgia’s recent runoff elections are seated, which will create a 50-50 split with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaking vote.

Some Democrats worry an impeachment trial could tie up the Senate during Biden’s first weeks in office, preventing the new president from installing Cabinet secretaries and acting on priorities like coronavirus relief.

Biden said on Monday he had spoken to some senators about impeachment, and officials would check with the Senate parliamentarian about whether a trial could be conducted at the same time as other business.

“Can you go a half day on dealing with the impeachment and a half day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate as well as moving on the (stimulus) package? That’s my hope and expectation,” he told reporters in Delaware after getting his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

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