Unlike the first time, a small fraction of Republicans is expected to support the Democrats for the motion.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters’ attack of the Capitol that left five dead.
Lawmakers in the lower chamber are expected to vote for impeachment around 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday (1.30 a.m. IST on Thursday) — marking the formal opening of proceedings against Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump is on the verge of being impeached for a second time in the unprecedented House vote, a week after he encouraged a mob of loyalists to “fight like hell” against election results just before they stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly siege.
While Mr. Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 brought no Republican votes in the House, a small but significant number of leaders and lawmakers are breaking with the party to join Democrats, saying Mr. Trump violated his oath to protect and defend U.S. democracy.
The stunning collapse of Mr. Trump’s final days in office, against alarming warnings of more violence ahead by his followers, leaves the nation at an uneasy and unfamiliar juncture before Democrat Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20.
“If inviting a mob to insurrection against your own government is not an impeachable event, then what is?” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a drafter of the article of impeachment.
Mr. Trump, who would become the only U.S. President twice impeached, faces a single charge of “incitement of insurrection.”
The four-page impeachment resolution relies on Mr. Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Mr. Biden’s election victory, including at a White House rally on the day of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, in building its case for high crimes and misdemeanors as demanded in the Constitution.
Mr. Trump took no responsibility for the riot, suggesting it was the drive to oust him rather than his actions around the bloody riot that was dividing the country.
“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Mr. Trump said on Tuesday, his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. Lawmakers had to scramble for safety and hide as rioters took control of the Capitol and delayed by hours the last step in finalising Mr. Biden’s victory.
The outgoing President offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”
At least five Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, were unswayed by the President’s logic. The Republicans announced they would vote to impeach Mr. Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Ms.Cheney said in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Unlike a year ago, Mr. Trump faces impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is said to be angry at Mr. Trump, and it’s unclear how an impeachment trial would play out. In the House, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a top Trump ally, scrambled to suggest a lighter censure instead, but that option crumbled.
So far, Republican Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran; Fred Upton of Michigan; and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington State announced they, too, would join Ms. Cheney to vote to impeach.
The House tried first to push Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to intervene, passing a resolution on Tuesday night calling on them to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Mr. Trump from office. The resolution urged Mr. Pence to “declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”
Mr. Pence made it clear he would not do so, saying in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”
Debate over the resolution was intense after lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the first time since the siege.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, argued that Mr. Trump must go because, as she said in Spanish, he’s “loco” — crazy.
In opposition, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said the “cancel culture” was just trying to cancel the President. He said the Democrats had been trying to reverse the 2016 election ever since Mr. Trump took office and were finishing his term the same way.
While House Republican leaders are allowing rank and file lawmakers to vote their conscience on impeachment, it’s far from clear there would then be the two-thirds vote in the evenly divided Senate needed to convict and remove Mr. Trump. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Mr. Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”
With just over a week remaining in Mr. Trump’s term, the FBI warned ominously of potential armed protests by Trump loyalists ahead of Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Capitol Police urged lawmakers to be on alert.
With new security, lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about the screening.
Mr. Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”
Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down his first days in office, the President-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID-19 relief while also conducting the trial.
The impeachment bill draws from Mr. Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Mr. Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Mr. Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.
Like the resolution to invoke the 25th Amendment, the impeachment Bill also details Mr. Trump’s pressure on State officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes and his White House rally rant to “fight like hell” by heading to the Capitol.
While some have questioned impeaching the President so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.