Democrats’ Drive to Oust Trump Hits Reality Check in Congress
(Bloomberg) -- A drive among Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump again over his encouragement of the mob that stormed the Capitol this week is running up against the calendar and divisions among Republicans over how to contain the president during his final days in office.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, and said the House will move forward on articles of impeachment if nothing is done, as the chamber’s top Republican warned of dividing the country further.
Those documents have already been drafted, but in a conference call Friday with House Democrats Pelosi didn’t say whether she’s made a decision about proceeding, according to people who listened in on the call. She said she’s waiting to get a response from Pence and indicated she planned to talk with President-elect Joe Biden to get his view on next steps, according to one of the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the call was private.
So far, Biden has left the discussion of removing Trump from office to others. “I’m not going to speak to that today,” he said at the start of event on Thursday, referring to calls by Democrats for Trump’s cabinet to use the 25th Amendment.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said later Thursday that the president-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were “focused on their duty” to prepare to take office, and would “leave it to Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and the Congress to act as they see fit.”
Pelosi told fellow Democrats on Friday’s call that they needed to address the danger posed by Trump. In a letter to House Democrats released by her office, Pelosi called Trump “unhinged,” and said she’d spoken with General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about “available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.” Pelosi was told there were safeguards in place to prevent a nuclear launch, said a person who listened to the call.
The House would have just days to act before Biden’s inauguration, but convicting Trump would require support from a significant number of Republican Senators.
One GOP senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said Friday he would “definitely consider” voting to convict Trump if he is 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 pursues 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 of Trump 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. 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 on Wednesday 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 praising 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 does not 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 on Thursday resigned 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 Clyburn told 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 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 “is 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.”
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