Against a tense backdrop of added security and fears of further violence, the Democratic-led House voted 232-197 to make Trump the first president impeached twice.
Every Democrat and 10 Republicans, including the House’s third-ranking Republican, supported impeachment, arguing that Trump violated his oath of office by whipping up a furious crowd that rampaged through the Capitol and aimed to block certification of the lawful election of Democrat Joe Biden.
The 10 Republicans who supported impeachment were the largest contingent to ever vote against a president of their own party on such a question, up from the five Democrats who backed charges against President Bill Clinton in 1998. Trump was already one of only three presidents ever impeached.
“We know that we face enemies to the Constitution. We know we experienced the insurrection that violated the sanctity of the people’s Capitol and attempted to overturn the duly recorded will of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said on the House floor. “And we know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
Republicans, even some who agreed Trump was to blame for the violence, argued that the impeachment was rushed and would be too divisive.
“No investigation has been completed. No hearings have been held,” said the House’s top Republican, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, of California. McCarthy, who had backed efforts to overturn the election, warned Wednesday that “a vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division.”
Yet he joined those who said Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.”
Lawmakers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey all voted along party lines.
Hours after the vote, Trump released a scripted video in which he said the attack “struck at the very heart of our republic.” He did not mention impeachment.
“I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week,” Trump said.
The second impeachment, affirmed seven days before Trump is set to leave office in defeat, added another dark stain to the president’s place in history. He now faces the possibility of becoming the only president ever convicted in a Senate trial. There is far more uncertainty than last year, when Senate Republicans firmly rejected impeachment charges centered on Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukrainian leaders to tar Biden.
Now, after Trump has lost the presidency, Senate Republicans will again hold the decisive votes on whether to convict him and effectively purge him from their party — five years after he crashed in to become the dominant figure in American politics. A conviction could result in barring Trump from holding office again (that would require a second vote, which would need only a simple majority).
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) wrote to colleagues, notably leaving the door open to a conviction.
Yet Trump, despite losing the White House and, many Republicans believe, harming their efforts to hold the Senate, also retains fervent support from many GOP voters, and the party’s elected officials have almost uniformly rallied behind him through years of controversy. It will take at least 17 Republican votes in the Senate to reach the two-thirds majority required to convict Trump at trial.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, will face the challenge of balancing a time-consuming trial with quickly advancing Biden’s policy agenda when he takes office next Wednesday.
McConnell said he would block calls for an emergency session of the Senate, so a trial can’t begin until next week, at the earliest. That means that even after Trump leaves office, he will continue to loom over American politics, potentially casting a shadow over the new president’s early weeks.
The vote on the House floor, under siege by Trump’s supporters just one week ago, came at a dark and fearful moment at the Capitol. Along with the National Guard troops occupying space that would normally be crowded by tourists, there was an increased police presence and metal detectors installed outside the House chamber. State capitols across the country were bracing for potential unrest ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
This impeachment, unlike the last one, had some bipartisan support to start, most prominently from the House’s third-ranking Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.).
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a statement. “None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
The vast majority of House Republicans, however, opposed impeachment. Many said it was unfair to blame Trump for the scenes that unfolded at the Capitol.
McCarthy, who on Wednesday acknowledged that Biden won, called for a fact-finding commission about the attack and a censure resolution.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R., Pa.) called the impeachment “a move which will no doubt further divide an already fractured nation.”
Both of them for months had amplified Trump’s false claims about the election, refused to accept the results, and just last week tried to throw out the electoral votes of Pennsylvania and Arizona, continuing their objections even after the attack had scarred the Capitol.
Trump’s monthslong crusade against his loss sowed doubts about the integrity of the country’s democracy, fueling the rising anger that exploded last week.
“They did not appear out of a vacuum,” Pelosi said of the Capitol attackers. “They were sent here, sent here by the president. Words matter. Truth matters. Accountability matters.”
Speaking off the cuff to reporters Tuesday, Trump derided the impeachment as another “witch hunt” and said of his speech that preceded the riot, “everybody, to the T, thought it was totally appropriate.”
Hours after the vote Wednesday, with his legacy now in the Senate’s hands, Trump urged his supporters to stay peaceful.
“Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement,” he said in the video. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence.”
He did not express remorse for his words, or acknowledge that the election had been fair.
The president is barred from Twitter, where his blasts often contradict his prepared statements.
House Democrats wrote a single article of impeachment accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” After months of making false claims that he had won reelection, and that the country’s very democracy was being undermined by a historic crime, Trump urged supporters to gather in Washington last week, tweeting that it “will be wild!”
They soon fought their way inside the Capitol, seized the Senate floor, and searched for Pence and Pelosi in a violent attempt to overturn the will of the voters. Some chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
As it unfolded, the president sent tweets first attacking Pence, then urging supporters to stay peaceful. Hours into the insurrection he posted a video that repeated the lie that he won a landslide before telling his supporters, “We love you. You’re very special. ... But go home, and go home in peace.”
Trump’s defenders in the House argued that it was unfair to blame the president. Reschenthaler pointed to a line in Trump’s speech before the attack when he told supporters to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
“Today’s sham of an impeachment wouldn’t be fit for the Inquisition or prairie justice — it’s an embarrassing and dangerous stunt that furthers our American divide,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.).
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), the region’s only Republican senator, has said in recent days that the president “committed impeachable offenses.” In a statement Wednesday, Toomey, who is leaving office after 2022, said he stood by those words, but added that there are legal questions about whether a president can be tried after leaving office.
If there is a trial he said he would consider arguments from both sides, taking the neutral posture of a juror.