Although during his four-year term in the office U.S. President Donald Trump has held the title of "the first president who" several times, this time, the Republican leader became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.
Trump was impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time, charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol in a swift and stunning collapse of his final days in office.
With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 on Wednesday to impeach Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after pro-Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol, egged on by the president's calls for them to "fight like hell" against the election results.
Ten Republicans fled Trump, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a “clear and present danger” if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
"Today, in a bipartisan way, the House demonstrated that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States," Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after Wednesday's vote. During the session in the House of Representatives, Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign “and domestic.”
“He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” Pelosi said, according to a release of quotes carried by The Associated Press (AP).
Last week's Capitol insurrection stunned and angered lawmakers, who were sent scrambling for safety as pro-Trump supporters descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power. The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.
"When I consider the full scope of events leading up to January 6th including the President's lack of response as the United States Capitol was under attack, I am compelled to support impeachment," House GOP lawmaker Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio wrote on Twitter.
Holed up at the White House, watching the proceedings on TV, Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention at all of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Biden’s inauguration.
“Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week,” he said, his first condemnation of the attack. He appealed for unity “to move forward” and said: “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. ... No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement.”
Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit. He is the first president to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.
The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell’s office said. The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.
McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats’ impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the divisive, chaotic president’s hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told AP on Wednesday.
Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority. Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol. In making a case for the “high crimes and misdemeanors” demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
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. The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes, which was the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.
Ten Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, voted to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership and the party itself. Cheney, whose father is the former Republican vice president, said of Trump’s actions that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a president” of his office. Trump was said to be livid with perceived disloyalty from McConnell and Cheney.
With the team around Trump hollowed out and his Twitter account silenced by the social media company, the president was deeply frustrated that he could not hit back, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricaded the door from rioters. During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.
Other Republicans argued the impeachment was a rushed sham and complained about a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.
Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided.
Biden urged the Senate in a statement after the vote to address the priorities of his agenda even as it deals with the second impeachment of Trump. In his first comments on the impeachment, Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is saddled with the coronavirus pandemic and an ailing economy, and he needs the Senate to approve his Cabinet choices swiftly so the new administration can get to work after he takes office.
"I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation," Biden said in a statement.
The impeachment bill draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney Gen. William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.
The House had first tried to persuade Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke their authority under the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence declined to do so, but the House passed the resolution anyway. The impeachment bill also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes.
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.
Meanwhile, a prominent human rights organization said Wednesday that Biden should allow the prosecution of his predecessor for alleged crimes, warning that just moving forward would be "a huge mistake." The Human Rights Watch (HRW) argued that once Biden takes office, he should not stand in the way of professional prosecutors wanting to hold Trump to account for various crimes in the name of trying to unify the country.
"Biden needs to allow professional prosecutors to go forward, and to prosecute whatever crimes took place," HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Roth urged Congress to ensure Trump is sanctioned for his alleged crimes while in office. In addition to Trump's alleged role in the storming of the Capitol, he said there were likely a long line of suspected crimes prosecutors could be interested in pursuing.
"We have seen Trump willing to trample on democracy in various forms" throughout his presidency, he said during an interview at his home in Geneva.
"Jan. 6 was a natural culmination of a trend that really persisted for four years. It is essential for the United States to really draw a line under that and say: This despicable conduct is utterly unacceptable."
It was vital, he said, to show that the president "is not above the law."
The HRW chief said the Trump administration had been a "disaster" in the realm of human rights, adding that the incoming president needed to do more than just fix what had been broken.
"The real challenge for Biden," he said, "is not simply how you reverse the damage that Trump did, but how do you avoid another Trump from doing something similar?"