House Democrats charged President Donald Trump on Monday with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, formally setting in motion the second impeachment of his presidency with nine days left in his term and fewer than a handful of Republicans in Congress publicly backing sanctions for Trump days after he incited a violent mob to attack many of them.
The move, which has already acquired more than 175 Democratic backers, comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced on Sunday that she would only go forward with impeachment if Vice President Mike Pence declined to remove Trump from office through the 25th Amendment. Should the House approve the article with a simple majority vote, Trump would become the first president in history to be impeached twice.
For evidence, the resolution cites Trump's repeated lies that widespread fraud cost him the election and his demands that the American people and officials reject the results. The article also points to his Jan. 6 rally speech ahead of the attack, in which he spurred his supporters to "fight like hell" or "you're not going to have a country anymore," rhetoric that led predictably to that afternoon's lawlessness.
Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session's solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.
Additionally, the document recalls Trump's taped phone conversation with Georgia's secretary of state, in which the president threatened to sabotage a Senate runoff if the Republican did not "find" enough votes to push the state over to Trump.
"In all this," the motion says, "President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said in a memo today that, barring unanimous consent from the upper chamber, the earliest he could take up the articles would be Jan. 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden assumes office, according to NBC News. However, on Sunday, Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said that the House could choose to hold a vote now but still delay passing the article from the Senate until after Biden's first 100 days in office, in the interest of keeping the new president's agenda as clear as possible.
Even when Democrats have control of the Senate they will face a steep climb to convict, which requires a two-thirds majority. Still, an acquittal is not a foregone conclusion as it was in during Trump's last trial one year ago, when Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah cast the lone Republican vote against Trump for leveraging U.S. military resources to extort a foreign power into damaging his political rival. (Romney voted down the second impeachment article, obstruction of justice.) This time, Romney is joined by a handful of Republican lawmakers in both chambers who have gone on the record to approve of taking steps to remove the president, after his supporters attacked them for following the Constitution.
Among them is frequent Trump critic Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who on Friday joined Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., the first Republican last week to call for Trump to leave office, when he said he would consider articles of impeachment, citing President Trump's "wicked" dereliction of his oath of office.
"If they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move, because as I told you I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office," Sasse said, citing Trump's direct incitement of the "insurrectionist mob" that attacked Congress on Wednesday.
"He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He acted against that," Sasse added. "What he did was wicked." The Nebraska Republican went so far as to say that impeachment should focus on why it took so long to deploy the National Guard, suggesting that the president obstructed the calls for reinforcements to help quell what Sasse described as a "third-world" uprising.
Though Sasse maintained that Trump's infractions were "not in debate," he said he was still unsure about the "prudential" issue of what the president's removal would mean for partisan unity.
"The question is more of a prudential question: What is the best thing for America in 2022 or 2032. The question isn't what's best for Donald Trump," Sasse said. "I don't care what happens to the man in 2023, I care about what happens to the American people in 2023, what brings 85 and 90 and 95 of our people together."
South Carolina's Sen. Lindsey Graham, a dependable Trump ally who on Friday was called "human garbage," a "traitor" and a "sex trafficker" by a group of Trump supporters upset with his refusal to challenge the election, said on Monday that the risk that impeachment would further divide the country was too great. "In light of President Trump's Thursday statement pledging an orderly transfer power and calling for healing in our nation, a second impeachment will do far more harm than good," Graham tweeted, adding that impeachment would be a "major step backward."
Two other Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a critical swing state in the election that Trump and allies have subjected to relentless attacks — have called for Trump's resignation, and while Romney has not yet made a public statement on the matter, he tore into the president last week.
Other Republican officials have quietly endorsed impeachment. "We experienced the attack; we don't need long hearings on what happened," one Republican told CNN. "He has to be impeached and removed," another GOP elected official told the network.
The Washington Post reported that a number of Republican leaders have come out in qualified support, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday poured cold water on the idea, opposing impeachment while suggesting four other options, including censure — although his statement, which did not mention Trump, left the target of censure an open question.
"Personally, I continue to believe that an impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together when we need to get America back on a path towards unity and civility," McCarthy wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
"Having spoken to so many of you, I know we are all taking time to process the events of that day," McCarthy added. "Please know I share your anger and your pain. Zip ties were found on staff desks in my office. Windows were smashed in. Property was stolen. Those images will never leave us — and I thank our men and women in law enforcement who continue to protect us and are working to bring the sick individuals who perpetrated these attacks to justice."