Donald Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, as a bipartisan House majority Wednesday voted to charge him with inciting insurrection by his supporters, who stormed the Capitol to block ratification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
It was a defining moment that will probably eclipse any perceived policy accomplishments of Trump’s presidency — such as his tax cuts, deregulation of business, and remaking of the federal judiciary — and illustrated how far he has fallen in the year since his last impeachment and trial when all but one Republican in Congress stood by him.
The 232-197 House vote Wednesday came exactly one week after the Capitol suffered its most violent assault since the British burned it in the War of 1812.
One casualty of last week’s Capitol siege seemed to be Trump’s iron grip on the Republican Party. In the final vote, 10 Republicans, including No. 3 GOP leader Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, joined all 222 Democrats in approving one article of impeachment.
The charge against Trump now goes to the Senate, where a trial will not be held until after Trump leaves office on Jan. 20. A post-presidency conviction would be too late to cut short his term in office, but it could be followed by a vote on a measure to bar Trump from running again for president.
The emotional House debate split lawmakers not so much over whether Trump was to blame for the violence, but over whether he should be impeached with just one week left in his presidency.
“The president of the United States incited this insurrection and this armed rebellion,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a Capitol still reeling from last week’s siege, now safeguarded by more military troops than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation we all love.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) voted against impeachment, but for the first time publicly blamed Trump for the insurrection.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” he said on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
In a major break with the president he has loyally served for four years, a furious Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is considering supporting Trump’s conviction when it comes to a trial in the Senate, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
In a memo to GOP colleagues Wednesday, McConnell did not deny widespread reports about his openness to conviction. “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,” he said.
If McConnell came down in favor of conviction, it could open a path for other Republicans to seize an opportunity to make a clean break with an increasingly unpopular and erratic president.
The fast-moving scene of political tumult is an appropriate coda for a Trump career that has broken precedent, norms, and laws at every turn. Even in the Senate, Republicans are beginning to envision what was unthinkable just days ago: that there might be enough votes to produce the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump, although most likely not until he is out of office.
If McConnell ultimately supported the conviction, members of his leadership team would probably follow the leader’s vote. Other Republicans have already signaled openness, including Sens. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to support conviction last year.
Timing is a wild card, and McConnell on Wednesday rejected a request by Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York that they invoke emergency powers to bring the Senate back into session.
In a statement released after the House vote, McConnell noted that the Senate’s past impeachment trials took 21, 37, and 83 days.
“There is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” he said. “Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact.”
Schumer, who will succeed McConnell as majority leader, issued his own statement committing to a Senate vote on Trump’s impeachment, saying a trial could start immediately.
Biden worried that a full-time impeachment trial would distract from his administration’s ability to get Cabinet nominations confirmed and his legislative agenda started, has discussed with McConnell the idea of “bifurcating” the Senate’s business to accommodate both a trial and his agenda. Alan Frumin, a former Senate parliamentarian, said he saw no obstacle in Senate rules to doing so.
In a statement released after the House vote, Biden said: “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.”
Although there was some talk of the House postponing the delivery of the impeachment article to the Senate to avoid slowing Biden’s start, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday that it would be transferred as soon as possible. House Democrats are steadfastly opposed to a delay, arguing that Trump poses a danger while he is in office.
To those who argued that there was not enough time to finish the process before Trump leaves office, Hoyer said as the House debate opened, “Is there little time left? Yes. But it is never too late to do the right thing.”
Sending a message of defiance to last week’s pro-Trump mob, Pelosi appeared late Wednesday at a lectern that had been stolen in the melee and later returned. Signing the impeachment measure to prepare it for delivery to the Senate, she said: “Today in a bipartisan way the House demonstrated that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.”
After the House vote, Trump released a video statement that attempted to distance himself from the Capitol attack but made no mention of impeachment.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in, and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever support political violence,” he said in the video, which was recorded in the Oval Office. He asked his supporters to be “thinking of ways to ease tensions, calm tempers, and help to promote peace in our country.”
The day had begun with Trump uncharacteristically silent, his White House barely attempting to defend him against the charge that his speech to thousands of supporters rallying near the Capitol incited them to march on the building to “fight” as the House and Senate were convening for the usual routine counting of electoral college votes to ratify Biden’s victory.
There were no administration briefings or statements opposing the impeachment. Top advisors were absent from television networks. The president’s once-powerful Twitter account was still silenced, shut off days ago over concerns that he could use it to incite more violence. It was a sign of how isolated the president has become since the mob attack on the Capitol. He was on track to end his presidency just as his long-shot presidential campaign began in 2015: at odds with many members of his own party.
The House debate began in a setting that spoke more to the exigencies of the moment — the ongoing pandemic and continuing security concerns in the wake of the Capitol siege — than to the historic nature of the day.
The Capitol complex was wrapped in a level of security far higher than last week, surrounded by new fencing and populated with thousands of law enforcement officers and troops from several agencies. National Guard troops bivouacked overnight inside the Capitol, sleeping on the cold marble floors.
Lawmakers and staff were required to walk through magnetometers to gain entrance to the chamber, although some resisted the screening devices. Only about 20 people — wearing masks and keeping the social distance — were on the House floor when the debate was called to order.
Still, the weight of history hung over the debate as the House approved a presidential impeachment for only the fourth time since the founding.
“What each of us chooses to do today, whether we vote to hold this president to account or look the other way, we will be remembered by history, by our children and their children,” Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) said.
“We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the president of the United States,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s most loyal allies, did not defend the president but portrayed the impeachment effort as part of a broad Democratic effort to undercut or “cancel” Trump’s presidency from the day he was inaugurated.
“It’s always been about getting the president no matter what,” said Jordan, who has said he believed Cheney should be voted out of the leadership for supporting impeachment. “The cancel culture will come for us all.”
Some House Republicans were still visibly shaken by the insurrection in their workplace only a week ago.
“If you work in this building every day, [Wednesday’s attack] is much more difficult to process given the nature of this building and the deep respect for it, the deep love. That’s the jarring part for members,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a member of leadership.
Still, he said most Republicans perceived the impeachment drive to be based on politics, pointing to speculation that House Democrats might hold the article of impeachment until some of Biden’s Cabinet can be approved.
That “tells me they’ve thought through the threat of imminent dangers and this is now political calculation they’ve made on the impeachment vote. That really belies the political nature of it,” he said.
Republicans had political calculations of their own: Many come from safe GOP-dominated districts where their top political threat comes not from a Democratic opponent but from a GOP primary challenge if they cross Trump supporters.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), one of the Republicans who voted for impeachment, shrugged off that political threat.
“I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” she said. “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing aside; I am choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
In her first speech on the House floor, freshman Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said she sent her children home Monday after she was sworn in, because she was afraid of the rhetoric leading up to Jan. 6.
Although she said of Trump, “I hold him accountable … for the attack last Wednesday,” Mace said she would not support impeachment because she believed it would divide the nation further.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) echoed that concern and said, “Rather than looking ahead to a new administration, the majority is again seeking to settle scores against the old one.”
The 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment was a record level of support for impeachment from a president’s own party. In addition to Cheney, they were Herrera Beutler, Fred Upton of Michigan, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Dan Newhouse of Washington, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan, and David Valadao of Hanford, Calif.
When the House voted in 1868 to impeach Andrew Johnson, no Democrats supported the move. When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, five Democrats joined with Republicans on three of the four counts against Clinton. No Republicans voted in favor of Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019, though Utah’s Romney voted to convict on one count in the Senate trial.