WASHINGTON – Donald J. Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice on Wednesday, as 10 members of his party joined the Democrats in the House to accuse him of "inciting insurrection" for his role in instigating an uprising. violent mob that stormed the Capitol last week.
When they reconvened in a building now heavily militarized against threats from pro-Trump activists and decorated with bunting for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s inauguration, lawmakers voted 232 to 197 to impose a single impeachment article. to approve. It accused Mr. Trump's "incitement to violence against the United States government" in his quest to undo the election results, calling for him to be removed and disqualified from ever holding public office again.
The vote left another indelible stain on Mr Trump's presidency, just a week before he was due to leave office and expose the cracks in the Republican Party. More members of his party voted to impeach the president than any other impeachment.
California speaker Nancy Pelosi, who declared one of the darkest chapters in American history last week, begged colleagues to “ embrace a constitutional means that will ensure that the republic will be safe from this man who is so determined to tear down the things we value and that keeps us together. "
Just over a year after she led a painstaking three-month trial to impeach Trump the first time for a pressure campaign on Ukraine to impeach Mr. Biden – a case dismissed by the president's unfailingly loyal Republican supporters – Ms. Pelosi had moved with little fanfare this time to do the same job in just seven days.
He has to go. He is a clear and current danger to the nation we all love, the speaker said, adding later, "I'm not pleased to say this – it breaks my heart."
The House's top Republican, California Representative Kevin McCarthy, admitted in a pained speech on the floor that Mr. Trump was responsible for the deadly attack on the Capitol. It had forced the vice president and lawmakers gathered there to formalize Mr. Biden's victory in order to flee for their lives.
"The president is responsible for Wednesday's attack on Congress by rioters," said Mr. McCarthy, one of 138 Republicans who returned to the House after the chaos and voted to reject certified electoral votes for Mr. Biden . "He should have denounced the crowd immediately when he saw what was going on."
Outside the room of the House, a surreal tableau offered reminders of the calamity that gave rise to the accusation, as thousands of armed National Guard members in camouflage clothing surrounded the complex and lurched through the halls, piling their helmets, rucksacks and weapons everywhere. went. Their presence gave the process a sense of war and evoked images of the 1860s, when the Union Army was stationed in the building.
A week of trauma and deliberation left lawmakers sparring not only about impeachment, but also facial covers that are mandatory due to the coronavirus and newly installed metal detectors outside the House chamber that are meant to prevent lawmakers from putting weapons on the floor. Some Republicans shot past the machines without stopping and let the alarm clocks howl. Several Democrats said they were concerned – so far unsubstantiated – that far-right colleagues may have played a role in facilitating the attack, and they requested an investigation.
Dozens of others stayed away from the Capitol on the memorable day, afraid of exposing colleagues or themselves to the virus and of ongoing security threats, instead casting their vote remotely by proxy.
The House's action paved the way for the second trial of the president in the Senate in a year. However, the exact timing of that procedure remained questionable, as it was unlikely that senators would meet to sit in the judgment before January 20, when Mr. Biden will take the oath of office and Mr. Trump will become a former president.
The last procedure was a partisan affair. But this time, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, would back the effort as a means of clearing his party from Mr. determine.
If a Senate trial resulted in Mr. Trump's conviction, it presented the prospect, tempting both Democrats and many Republicans, of preventing him from ever holding office again.
In a measured statement after the vote, Mr. Biden called on the nation to come together after an "unprecedented attack on our democracy." He stared at the likelihood that the trial would complicate his early days in office, saying he hoped the Senate leadership would "find a way to deal with their constitutional impeachment responsibilities, while also working. was with the other urgent matters of this country. " That work included cabinet appointments and confronting the coronavirus crisis.
In the Chamber, Democrats and Republicans who supported his impeachment made no attempt to hide their anger against Trump, who reportedly enjoyed watching the attack play out on television as lawmakers pleaded for help. Republicans attacked members of their own party for their support of his mendacious campaign to claim election victory.
Returning to the same room where many of them wore gas masks and hid under chairs amid gunfire a week ago – then zipped rioters reciting 'hang pence' and & # 39; where is Nancy & # 39; Catching up with the police – lawmakers laid harsh charges against the president and his party.
"They may have been hunting Pence and Pelosi to carry out their coup," said Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, the lead prosecutor on charges, "but any of us in this room could have died right now."
At least five people died in the attack, including an officer and a member of the crowd gunned down just outside the room door.
Lawmakers said Mr Trump's threat had not abated.
"He's able to start a civil war," said California Representative Maxine Waters, a veteran liberal.
After four years of almost unconditional alliance with him, few Republicans outright defended Mr. Trump's actions. Those who did resort to a known string of false equivalences pointed to protests against racial justice last summer that turned violent and allegations that Democrats had mistreated the president and tried to suppress the president. 74 million Americans who voted for him.
“It was always about getting the president no matter what,” Ohio Republican Representative Jim Jordan shot across the room to Democrats. "It's an obsession – an obsession that has now expanded. It's not just impeachment anymore, it's about canceling, as I said. Cancellation of the president and anyone who disagrees with them."
Overhanging the procedure was the deadly coronavirus pandemic, killing more than 3,000 Americans every day. A handful of lawmakers became infected following the chaotic evacuation of the Capitol, as many Republicans had refused to wear masks in the secure rooms where lawmakers from both parties had gathered for their safety.
Far from remorseful, Mr Trump insisted in the run-up to the vote that his words to loyalists swarming in Washington last week had been appropriate. In the days since, he has repeated false lies that the election was stolen from him. He also denounced impeachment as part of the years of "witch hunt" against him, but had not taken any clear steps to form a legal team to defend him when he is on trial.
Not long after the vote on Wednesday, Mr. Trump released a video condemning the violence and urging his followers to avoid a repeat in "the coming days both here in Washington and across the country," while federal authorities warned of a national wave of violence surrounding Mr Biden's inauguration. But the president did not identify or apologize for his own role in instigating the violence, nor did he concede or mention Mr. Biden's name.
Mr Trump recorded the video under pressure from aides, who have warned him that he may be legally exposed to the riot that took place after a speech urging supporters to "fight" the election results.
It also came after Mr. McConnell released a note to Republican senators not denying that he was behind the impeachment attempt. The leader said he had "not yet 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."
Mr McConnell also made a separate statement rejecting a request from the Democrats to initiate proceedings immediately. After the House vote, he said that before the inauguration, "there was simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could be concluded."
“I think it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch are fully focused over the next seven days on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly handover of power to the incoming Biden administration,” said Mr. McConnell.
The statement did not mention the merits of the case, but privately, the Senate Republican leader boiled at Mr. Trump – to whom he has sworn he will speak no more – and is said to believe the president has committed accusatory offenses. . It would most likely take 17 Republicans to join the Democrats to condemn Mr. Trump, an extraordinarily high bar.
Mr. McConnell's anger was shared by some Republicans in the House, most notably Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the chairman of the House Republican Conference and the scion of a legendary political family.
The other Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump were Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler from Washington, John Katko from New York, Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, Fred Upton from Michigan, Dan Newhouse from Washington, Peter Meijer from Michigan, Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio, David Valadao from California and Tom Rice from South Carolina. Together they pronounced some of the president's harshest condemnations, defying the prevailing opinion of their party.
"I am not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail," said Ms Herrera Beutler. "I fear patriots to this country have died in vain. I fear my children will not grow up in a free country. I fear injustice will prevail."
Mr. Rice, who represents a secure Republican seat, said he had "supported this president through thick and thin for four years."
He added, “I campaigned for him and voted for him twice. But this utter failure is inexcusable. "
A dozen other Republicans indicated that they might have stood for impeachment if Mr. Trump wasn't about to leave office or if Democrats had delayed the process.
Mr McCarthy, who had privately pondered calling on Mr Trump to resign after years of eager defense of him, spoke out against a "swift impeachment" and warned that it would "further the flames of partisan divisions. would fuel. " But he also dismissed false suggestions from some of his colleagues that Antifa was actually responsible for the siege, and not Mr. Trump's supporters.
Mr McCarthy suggested censoring the president rather than impeaching him.
But there were also strong signs of support for Mr Trump, despite losing his party the House, Senate and White House over the course of two years. Far-right Republicans immediately launched a campaign to oust Ms. Cheney from her leadership position, which she said she would not give up.
While Ms. Cheney had released a statement on Tuesday announcing her intention to impeach Mr. Trump and denouncing him, she chose not to speak during the impeachment debate on Wednesday. Democrat after Democrat quoted her nonetheless – despite the party's longstanding dislike for Ms. Cheney and her father, Dick Cheney, the former vice president – as arguing that her support meant a broad consensus that the president should leave.
As Liz Cheney said, there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. Don't dismiss that, & # 39; & # 39; said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat and majority leader. "Now that she has taken a stand, I hope others will too."
The vote came a little over a year later the House accused Mr Trump of trying to use levers of power to pressure the leader of Ukraine into infecting Mr Biden, then his main rival for the upcoming 2020 election. Republicans then unanimously opposed the charges, but the themes central to the impeachment and subsequent trial were ultimately the same on Wednesday: Mr. Trump's willingness to put himself above the nation, he swore to lead an oath and abuse its power to preserve it.
The housing of the house was narrow, divided into one four pages impeachment article who accused the president "threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transfer of power and endangered an equal branch of government".
In particular, it said he had made false allegations of electoral fraud, pressured Georgia election officials to "find" enough votes for him to reverse the results, and then encouraged a crowd of his most loyal supporters to join. to rally in Washington and confront Congress.
The article referred to the 14th amendment, passed after the civil war, that prohibits any official involved in "insurrection or rebellion" from holding official office. It also quoted Mr. Trump's own words at the rally a week ago when he told supporters, "If you don't fight like crazy, you won't have any land."
This time there were no witness interviews, no hearings, no committee debates and no actual additional facts beyond the public record and the plain facts of the brutal attack and Mr Trump's words.
Emily Cochrane and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting from Washington, and Maggie Haberman From New York.