Emotions run high as US House begins debate on impeaching Trump

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WASHINGTON: A week after President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol, the House of Representatives began debate on Wednesday (Jan 13) as lawmakers considered impeaching him for his role in an assault on American democracy that stunned the nation and left five dead.

At least five Republicans have said they would join Democrats in voting for an article of impeachment – a formal charge – of inciting an insurrection just seven days before he is due to leave office and President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan 20. If the House approves it, Trump would become the first president impeached twice.

House impeachment of Trump would not immediately remove him from office but would set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. It remained unclear whether such a trial would take place in time to expel Trump from office. As lawmakers debated the matter, National Guard troops and police were stationed around the Capitol to provide security.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No 2 Democrat, said Democrats intended to send the impeachment charge, once approved, to the Senate “as soon as possible,” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named nine impeachment managers who would present the House’s case during a Senate trial.

READ: New York City to cut contracts with Trump organisation, says mayor

National Guard members gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

National Guard members gather and rest, before Democrats begin debating one article of impeachment against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, in Washington on Jan 13, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wears a protective mask while arriving to the US Capitol on Jan 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Stefani Reynolds)

The extraordinary swiftness with which Democrats were moving reflects the ongoing danger that Trump poses to national security, according to top Democrats. It also increases pressure on Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, to consider holding an immediate trial.

McConnell has said no trial could begin until the chamber returns from its recess on Jan 19. But Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is set to become the majority leader after two newly elected Democratic senators from Georgia are seated and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in later this month, told reporters the Senate could be recalled to handle the matter if McConnell agrees.

“CRIME SCENE”

Washington is on high alert after the Jan 6 riot, with a week to go in Trump’s term. Thousands of National Guard troops were to be on hand and some service members wearing fatigues, with weapons at hand, could be seen sleeping inside the Capitol building on Wednesday ahead of the session.

The House convened just after 9am (10pm Singapore time) in the same chamber where lawmakers hid under chairs last Wednesday as rioters clashed with police in the halls of the Capitol.

“We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said as the session opened. “This was a well-organised attack on our country that was incited by Donald Trump.”

READ: Vice President Mike Pence rejects invoking 25th Amendment to oust Trump

Members of the National Guard take a rest in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on

Members of the National Guard take a rest in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington DC on Jan 13, 2021 ahead of the House vote impeaching US President Donald Trump. (Photo: AFP/Saul Loeb)

House Republicans who opposed the impeachment drive argued Democrats were going too far, as Trump was on the verge of leaving office, and argued for the creation of a commission to study the events surrounding the siege.

“Instead of moving forward as a unifying force, the majority in the House is choosing to divide us further,” Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said on the floor. Cole was one of 139 House Republicans who voted against certifying the Nov 3 presidential election results on Wednesday, hours after the violence, after Trump made false claims of widespread voting fraud.

Republican Representative Jason Smith accused Democrats of acting recklessly and urged the House not to impeach Trump in order to help “heal the nation.”

Democrats moved forward on an impeachment vote after Vice President Mike Pence rejected an effort to persuade him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution to remove Trump.

As the House prepared for the impeachment vote, there were signs Trump’s hold on the Republican Party was beginning to ebb. At least five House Republicans, including Liz Cheney, a member of her party’s leadership team, said they would vote for his second impeachment – a prospect no president before Trump has faced.

READ: Trump, Pence signal common front with Oval Office meeting

READ: Commentary: Donald Trump, half of America’s fantasy hero

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is leading the impeachment of US President Donald Trump

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is overseeing the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. (Photos: AFP/Mandel Ngan, Saul Loeb)

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a statement.

Trump “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack” on the Capitol, she said.

Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler, John Katko, Adam Kinzinger and Fred Upton also said they supported impeachment.

In a break from standard procedure, Republican leaders in the House have refrained from urging their members to vote against impeaching Trump, saying it was a matter of individual conscience.

The New York Times reported that McConnell was said to be pleased about the impeachment push, another sign Trump’s party is looking to move on from him after the attack on Congress.

READ: Three US House Republicans declare support for impeaching Trump

READ: Defiant Trump cheers as allies in Congress plan challenge to his election

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will preside over the second vote in just 13 months to impeach

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will preside over the second vote in just 13 months to impeach President Donald Trump. (Photo: AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

The House previously voted to impeach Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election, as Democrats accused him of soliciting foreign interference to smear a domestic political rival. The Republican-led Senate in February 2020 voted to keep Trump in office.

The article of impeachment accused Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” saying he provoked violence against the US government in a speech to thousands of supporters near the White House shortly before the Capitol siege. The article also cited Trump’s Jan 2 phone call asking a Georgia official to “find” votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.

“TOTALLY APPROPRIATE”

In his first public appearance since last Wednesday’s riot, Trump showed no contrition on Tuesday for his speech shortly before the siege.

“What I said was totally appropriate,” Trump told reporters.

At a meeting to set the rules for Wednesday’s impeachment vote, Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who helped craft the impeachment measure, said it had the support of 217 lawmakers – enough to impeach Trump.

READ: Commentary: This impeachment is different. Pity it might not go as planned

Members of the National Guard gather at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

Members of the National Guard are given weapons before Democrats begin debating one article of impeachment against US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, in Washington on Jan 13, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

A two-thirds majority of the Senate is needed to convict Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to vote for conviction.

Democrats could also use an impeachment trial to push through a vote blocking Trump from running for office again.

Only a simple Senate majority is needed to disqualify Trump from future office, but there is disagreement among legal experts as to whether an impeachment conviction is needed before a disqualification vote.

A different part of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, also provides a procedure for disqualifying Trump from future office with a simple majority of both chambers.

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