WASHINGTON: Donald Trump became the first US president in history to be impeached twice when the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday (Jan 13) to charge him with inciting last week’s mob attack on Congress.
The Democratic-led House’s 232-197 passage of a single article of impeachment in a historic vote in the waning days of Trump’s four-year term in office does not remove him from office.
Rather it moves the drama over his political fate to the Senate, which remains in the hands of Trump’s fellow Republicans for now but later this month will be under Democratic control.
In the end, 10 Republicans broke ranks, including the party’s number three in the House, Representative Liz Cheney.
Holed up in the White House, Trump had no immediate reaction but he earlier issued a brief statement insisting that he opposed violence among his supporters.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be no violence, no lawbreaking and no vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for,” he said.
“I call on all Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”
Reflecting the fear of upheaval, armed National Guards deployed across the capital and central streets were blocked to traffic.
In the Capitol building itself, guards in full camouflage and carrying assault rifles assembled, some of them grabbing naps early Wednesday under the ornate statues and historical paintings.
Trump survived a first impeachment almost exactly a year ago when the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him of abusing his office to try and get dirt on Biden’s family before the election.
This time, his downfall was triggered by a speech he delivered to a crowd on the National Mall on Jan 6, telling them that Biden had stolen the presidential election and that they needed to march on Congress and show “strength.”
Amped up on weeks of election conspiracy theories pushed by Trump, the mob then stormed into the Capitol, fatally wounded one police officer, wrecked furniture and forced terrified lawmakers to hide, interrupting a ceremony to put the legal stamp on Biden’s victory.
One protester was shot dead, and three other people died of “medical emergencies”, bringing the toll to five.
“The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on the House floor before the vote. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar branded Trump a “tyrant,” saying that “for us to able to survive as a functioning democracy there has to be accountability”.
But Nancy Mace, a newly-elected Republican congresswoman said that while lawmakers “need to hold the president accountable” over the violence, the speed of the process “poses great questions about the constitutionality”.
The House’s top Republican, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said that while Trump deserves censure, hurriedly impeaching will “further divide this nation”.
MCCONNELL OPEN TO IMPEACHMENT
Trump, who has been stripped of his social media megaphones by Twitter and Facebook, and finds himself increasingly ostracised in the business world, is struggling to impose his message – let alone any kind of resistance.
His refusal to accept any responsibility for the horrifying scenes on Jan 6 – including his insistence on Tuesday that his speech was “totally appropriate” – has infuriated allies and opponents alike.
The main question now is to what extent former Republican allies in the Senate will turn on their party’s figurehead. Last year, they acquitted Trump overwhelmingly after the House impeached him for abuse of office.
Powerful Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has made clear there is no time before Trump’s Jan 20 exit to hold an impeachment trial, given that the Senate is in recess until Jan 19.
However, he said Wednesday that he was open to the possibility of voting to convict Trump in a trial, which could still be held after Biden takes over.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell said.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that McConnell is signalling privately that he believes Trump did commit impeachable offences.
READ: Vice President Mike Pence rejects invoking 25th Amendment to oust Trump
This presents a potentially fatal shift in the ground under Trump’s feet, because it could lead other Republican senators to join in convicting Trump with the goal of turning the page in the turbulent relationship between the party and former reality TV host and real estate magnate.
Meanwhile, the increasingly toothless Trump’s social media woes deepened late Tuesday when video-sharing giant YouTube said it was suspending his official account for at least a week, out of concern his videos could incite violence.
He is also being cut out by the business world, threatening his financial future once he leaves the White House.
The latest blow to the Trump empire was when the mayor of his native New York City, Bill de Blasio, announced Wednesday a termination of contracts to run a golf course, two ice-skating rinks and a carousel in Central Park.
“New York City doesn’t do business with insurrectionists,” de Blasio, a Democrat, tweeted.