Democratic Pressure Builds to Oust Trump While Biden Taps Brakes
(Bloomberg) -- President-elect Joe Biden suggested that Democrats shouldn’t spend time trying to impeach Donald Trump in his final days in office, even though pressure is mounting in the party to oust the president after he encouraged a mob that stormed the Capitol.
Democrats have already begun drafting articles of impeachment, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that Trump is so “unhinged” that she sought assurances from the nation’s top military commander that safeguards are in place in case he initiates an armed conflict or tries to launch a nuclear strike.
Pelosi said again Friday that the Democrats would move to impeach Trump if he doesn’t immediately resign. But on a conference call with House Democrats, Pelosi indicated she hadn’t made a decision and wanted to consult with Biden.
Biden said at a news conference later on Friday that his inauguration on Jan. 20 will be the quickest way to get Trump of office.
“If we were six months out we should be doing everything we can to get him out of office,” Biden said. “But I am focused now on us taking control as president and vice president on the 20th.”
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have urged Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, and implored congressional Republicans to join in pressuring the president to step down.
“If the president does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action,” Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats on Friday.
But an impeachment effort is running up against the calendar as well as against divisions among Republicans over how to contain the president during his final days in office. The House would have just days to act before Biden’s inauguration, and convicting Trump would require support from a significant number of GOP senators.
One such Republican, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said Friday he would “definitely consider” voting to convict Trump if he’s impeached by the House following the Capitol siege.
“I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse, a regular critic of Trump, said on CBS News. “He swore an oath to the American people to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He acted against that. What he did was wicked.”
But South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been one of Trump’s closest allies, said if Pelosi pursued Trump’s impeachment now, it would “do more harm than good.” He appealed to Biden, who has said he wants to govern in a spirit of bipartisanship. “I’m hopeful President-elect Biden sees the damage that would be done from such action.”
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that he would try to contact Biden as well to talk to him “about how we must work together to lower the temperature and unite the country to solve America’s challenges.” McCarthy said pursuing impeachment would further divide the country.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to convict Trump in last year’s impeachment trial, said there’s little time for either an impeachment or what likely would be a prolonged battle over the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president.
“I think we have to hold our breath” until Trump’s term runs out, he told reporters this week.
Trump has been besieged on all sides since supporters he inspired vandalized the Capitol and disrupted the House and Senate during the certification of the Electoral College vote on Wednesday.
Some administration officials, including two cabinet secretaries, have resigned in protest, and several senior Republicans in Congress said Trump bears responsibility for inciting the mob and refusing for almost two months after the Nov. 3 election to acknowledge Biden’s victory.
Trump on Thursday appeared to be trying to quell the furor and head off any clamor for his ouster within the GOP. He released a video message in which he condemned the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, and said he was prepared for a smooth transition to Biden’s administration.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Trump said. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
But on Friday, Trump said he won’t attend Biden’s inauguration, breaking decades of precedent, and praised his supporters on Twitter.
Jim Manley, who was a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the assault on the Capitol was so unprecedented that it’s possible House Democrats could proceed with impeachment.
The demands by both Pelosi and Schumer “indicates that for many, doing nothing is not an option,” he said, even though he doesn’t expect enough Republican votes to reach the two-thirds required for an impeachment conviction.
Five people died in connection with the violence, including a police officer and a woman who was shot by the police outside the House chamber.
A number of Democrats are joining the appeal to invoke the 25th Amendment. But that course, too, has legal and procedural hurdles that would make it difficult to carry out by Jan. 20.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stayed mum on any next steps regarding Trump after ripping the futile effort by the president’s allies to undo the election that was part of the impetus for the mob to invade the Capitol.
McConnell is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who resigned on Thursday, saying the attack on Congress “deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”
Later on Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also resigned.
“For two cabinet members to resign, that says to me they are running away from their responsibilities. If they feel that strongly they should stay there,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburntold CNN Friday, “so they can cast two of the votes needed for the 25th amendment.”
For Democratic leaders there’s little risk in pressuring Trump’s cabinet and Pence, but impeachment would put the spotlight on Trump instead of on preparing for Biden’s incoming administration.
Many Democrats were pushing to do so anyway.
A former senior House aide who keeps in close contact with representatives and staff said that resolve to remove Trump grew over the several hours lawmakers were kept behind locked doors to protect them from the intruders.
The former aide said impeachment could move forward regardless of whether Senate Republicans were on board. Pelosi and Schumer also may be trying to prod some GOP lawmakers who are sympathetic to the idea of getting Trump’s cabinet to remove him.
Representative Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, said Trump “deserves to be removed from office, whether by invoking the 25th Amendment, impeachment, or resignation.”
But she said in a statement that without broad, bipartisan support, the likelihood of forcing him out of office before Biden’s inauguration was “extremely low.”
“Especially after the political theater that consumed the Electoral College certification process in Congress,” Lee said, “we owe it to our constituents to be honest.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.