WASHINGTON—One week after his supporters stormed the Capitol to oppose his loss of the election, legislators in that same building voted to impeach Donald Trump for the second time in his single term in office.
Trump becomes the first president to be impeached twice — he has now been impeached as many times as all other presidents in U.S. history combined. Historic. Ten Republicans voted in favour of the motion, the most to ever support the impeachment of a president of their own party. Historic. One of those members, Liz Cheney, said of his incitement of the insurrectionist riot “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the constitution.” Historic.
The final vote on the article of impeachment accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” held shortly after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, was 232 for impeachment, 197 opposed, with four members not voting.
Earlier in the day, House of Representatives Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern began the day’s discussion, saying, “We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene.”
It looked, however, more like a war zone. For the first time since the civil war, thousands of federal troops were stationed overnight at the Capitol building, sleeping on its marble floors as reporters and staff arrived early in the morning, and patrolling the grounds in large groups wearing camouflage and carrying rifles. Blocks and blocks of downtown Washington surrounding Capitol Hill had been fenced off, with access tightly guarded at a limited number of checkpoints. Because of elevated threats from Trump’s supporters expected in the week ahead, the measures will stay in place through the inauguration on Jan. 20.
“There are more troops here in Washington, D.C. today than there are in Afghanistan, and they are here to protect us from our president and his mob,” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton said.
The surreal sense that the seat of American government had been transformed into a dangerous battlefield was invoked in the speeches of many Democrats who spoke through the day. Many cited their direct experience of fear when their lives were threatened by Trump’s supporters during the siege. Over and over, they expressed disgust and rage at Trump’s encouragement of the crowd.
“It was the single most depraved betrayal of the constitution by a president,” Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor said in her speech. “Trump’s defilement of this Capitol, will not stand. It demands impeachment right now.”
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Despite the historic number of Republican votes to support the impeachment (the previous floor-crossing high was five Democrats who voted to impeach Bill Clinton, as no members of Andrew Johnson’s party voted to impeach him, and no House Republicans supported Trump’s 2019 impeachment), and despite what seemed to be momentum within the party to abandon Trump on Tuesday night, the majority of the speeches by Republicans condemned the impeachment as “rushed” and “vindictive.”
Some, such as Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, condemned Trump’s actions and suggested he bore responsibility for the mob scene at the Capitol, but suggested impeachment would just be more divisive. Many other Republicans recited familiar Trump campaign talking points about witch hunts and election irregularities, and emphasized what they said was hypocritical Democratic silence at Black Lives Matter unrest last year. (Though it should be noted most Democratic leaders were not silent then, and condemned violence in civil rights protests.) The Republicans, most of whom voted a week ago not to accept Electoral College votes certifying Joe Biden’s election, now called for putting impeachment aside in the name of national unity.
“After the traumatic events of last week, the majority should be seeking to unite us. Instead they divide us further. They’re rushing to judgment in my opinion, and bringing up impeachment after failing to follow any meaningful process whatsoever,” Republican Rep. Tom Cole said. “Let us look forward, not backward, Let us come together, not apart. Let us celebrate the peaceful transition of power to a new president rather than impeaching an old president.”
Democratic Rep. McGovern answered such calls directly: “We will never have unity without truth, and also without accountability. This impeachment resolution outlines the truth of what Trump did. It is time that this Congress now holds him accountable for his words and for their devastating impact.”
While the debate about his conduct was underway, Trump issued a statement, something he has rarely done over the past week since the riot at the Capitol. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO law-breaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.” It is the type of statement many wanted Trump to issue while the storming of the Capitol was underway. Coming as it did while Republicans were debating how to vote, it may appear more as an attempt to deny accusations than a heartfelt appeal for peace.
The impeachment will now go to the Senate — where it will not be heard at a trial until after Jan. 20 when Joe Biden is inaugurated as president. It’s fate there is a bigger question mark than in his first trial, in which acquittal was a predetermined certainty. At least 17 Republicans would need to vote to convict Trump, which would make him the first president ever convicted in an impeachment trial, and could prevent him from receiving post-presidential pensions and perks, and possibly keep him from running for office again. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a note to his caucus Wednesday, saying, “While the press has been full of speculation, 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.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, early in the debate, laid out what she called the historic stakes. “Those insurrectionists were not patriots. They were not part of a political base to be catered to and managed. They were domestic terrorists and justice must prevail,” Pelosi said. “But they did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here by the president with words such as ‘fight like hell.’ Words matter. Truth matters. Accountability matters.”
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer pointed to future generations in concluding the debate. “This vote is not about timing, it is about principle,” he said, calling on a vote to impeach “For the constitution, for democracy, for history.”
Edward Keenan is the Star’s Washington Bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Reach him via email: [email protected]
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