The House will take its first formal step toward removing President Donald Trump Tuesday, with Democrats warning he presents a grave and immediate threat to the nation despite having just a week left in office.
Democrats’ push to force Trump out — first with a vote later Tuesday calling on Vice President Mike Pence to take unilateral action and then an impeachment vote Wednesday — is barreling to the floor at unprecedented speed.
“This is a solemn day,” House Rules Chair Jim McGovern said as his panel moved quickly to tee up the resolution intended to pressure Pence. The Massachusetts Democrat, who was steps away from the doors as rioters attempted to pound their way into the chamber last Wednesday, rebuked Trump for urging his supporters to march on the Capitol where their insurrection temporarily halted certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
“He called together an angry mob, he filled them with falsehoods and false hope. And then he sent them to the U.S. Capitol,” McGovern said. “It is past time for the vice president to do the right thing here.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said they will only move ahead to impeach Trump if Pence continues to ignore their party’s increasingly urgent demands to remove the president. But down Pennsylvania Avenue, Pence has offered no public indications that he is considering the notion. And Trump has remained defiant even as a growing faction of his party has blamed him for Wednesday’s violence.
In his first public remarks since the deadly riots, Trump showed no remorse for his involvement, calling his speech last Wednesday encouraging protesters to march to the Capitol “totally appropriate.” Instead, he lashed out at the Democrats’ impeachment efforts.
“This impeachment is causing tremendous anger, and you’re doing it and it’s really a terrible thing that they’re doing,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country and it’s causing tremendous anger.”
Tensions remained high on Tuesday as many Democrats and Republicans returned to work for the first time since Wednesday’s siege.
In a meeting of the normally mild-mannered Rules Committee, multiple Democrats became enraged as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) repeatedly refused to acknowledge that Biden won the election fairly.
“I’m glad that all it took for you to call for unity and healing was for our freedom and democracy to be attacked,” McGovern fired back at Jordan, a Trump ally, as he and others grew increasingly furious. “But for the several months, the gentleman from Ohio and others have given oxygen to the president’s conspiracy theories.”
“All of us should do some soul searching on five dead Americans,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in his own fiery response to Jordan, adding: “This president is not up to the job for the next eight days and a lot of danger still faces us.”
Even before Trump’s comments Tuesday, the Democrats’ effort to remove the president for an unprecedented second time left some concerned on Capitol Hill about the potential divisiveness of the step.
Lawmakers of both parties are worried the impeachment vote will again inflame the pro-Trump mob who stormed the Capitol last week and terrorized lawmakers and staff and which resulted in dozens of injuries and five deaths, including a police officer.
Only compounding those concerns, Democrats received an alarming security briefing Monday night that left members and staff shaken, with Capitol officials warning of “retribution” plots from Trump supporters.
Pelosi and her leadership team held another security briefing on Tuesday with the acting heads of Capitol Police and the House Sergeant-at-Arms. One of the biggest concerns is next week’s inauguration ceremonies, which a growing number of lawmakers are privately considering skipping.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said it was “working around the clock” to secure the event, and appeared to rule out the idea of relocating it to a different, perhaps indoors, location.
“We will be swearing in President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021,” the planning committee wrote.
But Democrats, including Pelosi, say they have no choice but to deliver a firm rebuke against Trump. The vast majority of House Democrats say they are prepared to press ahead with impeachment even as some worry about returning to the Capitol.
And many Democrats are increasingly encouraged, hoping that a dozen House Republicans will ultimately support the impeachment effort.
“I hope we will have a dozen, at least. You know, I think we’ll have somewhere in that range. I hope we have many more,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a lead author of the article of impeachment against Trump, told CNN Tuesday.
The mounting strife within the House GOP Conference was on full display in a two-hour conference call on Monday, where lawmakers sparred over the fallout from the riot.
GOP leadership is not planning to whip votes among the conference, a move that comes amid bubbling frustrations among House Republicans over Trump’s role in spurring Wednesday’s violence.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy isn’t putting his thumb on the scale. And POLITICO first reported Monday that House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is considering supporting impeachment, is framing it as a “vote of conscience” rather than a political vote.
Still, many of Trump’s allies have continued to defend him, making clear that the base of the congressional GOP will reject both of Democrats’ efforts this week.
“I think this resolution is misguided and inappropriate for the legislative branch to pursue,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who was among more than 130 Republicans who opposed certification of the 2020 election this week. “Vice President Pence’s record of sound judgment at times of crisis should speak to all of us on this issue.”
The resolution the House will vote on later Tuesday, introduced by Raskin, would call on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment — deeming the president unfit for office and removing him if a majority of the Cabinet or a commission appointed by Congress agrees.
“It’s very clear that the president did not discharge the proper duties of office,” Raskin said.
With Pence showing no desire to invoke the 25th Amendment, the House is all but certain to impeach Trump Wednesday. The question then turns to the Senate and when it will begin a trial.
Pelosi and her leadership team discussed over the weekend delaying sending the article of impeachment over to the Senate so as not to immediately trigger a trial that could derail Biden’s agenda and Cabinet confirmations in his first critical weeks.
But top Democrats have since begun coalescing around a plan to immediately send over the article, with Biden himself floating the idea that the Senate could focus on the trial in the morning and consider Cabinet nominees in the afternoon. (During Trump’s first impeachment trial, the Senate began proceedings in the afternoon each day, allowing for other Senate action.)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell circulated a memo late last week saying the earliest a Senate trial would begin would be Jan. 19, the day before Biden’s inauguration. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the incoming majority leader, has looked into the option of reconvening the chamber earlier under emergency powers but the move would require buy-in from McConnell, who is unlikely to agree to it.
In a memo outlining his priorities as majority leader Tuesday, Schumer did not mention the impeachment trial specifically, instead saying that the Senate will "continue to take action to address these events — including action to mitigate and hopefully remove the immediate and ongoing danger President Trump poses to our country."
Pelosi declined to comment on the potential timeline as she entered the Capitol Tuesday.
“That is not something I will be discussing right now as you can imagine,” Pelosi told reporters. “Take it one step at a time.”
Olivia Beavers and Quint Forgey contributed to this report.