The U.S. House of Representatives held an emotional debate on Wednesday ahead of a vote to impeach President Donald Trump, with the chamber’s top Democrat calling him a “clear and present danger,” while Republican Senate leaders weighed whether to launch a trial on Friday to consider removing him from office.
With only a week remaining in Trump’s tumultuous four-year term, an immediate trial could allow the Senate to vote on whether to oust him before he leaves the White House and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
The House vote is set to be held a week after a pro-Trump mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol shortly after the Republican president delivered an incendiary speech to thousands of supporters.
Around 12:30 p.m. (1730 GMT), the House began debating a single article of impeachment formally charging Trump with inciting insurrection in a speech shortly before the riot.
“We know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told her fellow lawmakers. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
The internal Senate discussions, according to a source familiar with the deliberations, took place as the Democratic-controlled House moved toward impeaching the president for his role in the Jan. 6 siege. The source said no final decision has been reached on the timing of Senate action.
Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6 breached the building’s security, sent lawmakers fleeing and left five dead in their wake, including a police officer. The mob interrupted the formal certification of Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election.
Pelosi said Trump has engaged in a “war on democracy,” and that the “insurrectionists” and “domestic terrorists” who stormed the Capitol were “sent here by the president.”
Trump – already one of only three presidents to be impeached – would become the first president to see it happen twice if the House approves the measure.
Some Republicans made speeches earlier in the day urging the House not to impeach Trump in the interest in promoting national healing.
Lawmakers remained on edge after last week’s violence, and large numbers of National Guard troops wearing fatigues and carrying rifles were stationed outside and inside the building.
Under the U.S. Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had previously suggested no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Jan. 19, only a day before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is due to be sworn in.
Republican congressman Jim Jordan, a prominent Trump ally who led his party’s opposition to the first Democratic-led impeachment in 2019, accused Democrats of pursuing an impeachment drive that he said began soon after Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
“Why? Politics and the fact that they want to cancel the president,” Jordan said on the House floor.
Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have pressured McConnell to agree to bring the Senate back sooner under emergency circumstances and the source noted that the Senate has already scheduled a normally sparsely attended “prof forma” session on Friday.
The New York Times reported that McConnell is said to be pleased by the House impeachment push.
If Trump is impeached, a two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate is needed to convict him, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to find him guilty.
Impeachment is a remedy devised by America’s 18th century founders to enable Congress to remove a president who has committed, as the Constitution states, “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Trump’s actions have weakened his once-iron grip over his party. While no Republican senators have said they would vote to convict, two – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania – have called on Trump to resign.
At least five House Republicans, including Liz Cheney, a member of her party’s leadership team, said they would vote for impeachment.
The House convened in the same chamber where lawmakers hid under chairs and donned gas masks last Wednesday as rioters clashed with police in the halls of the Capitol, after Trump in an incendiary speech urged supporters to march on the building.
In a break from standard procedure, Republican leaders in the House have refrained from urging their members to vote against impeaching Trump, saying it was a matter of individual conscience.
“Instead of moving forward as a unifying force, the majority in the House is choosing to divide us further,” Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said on the House floor.
Cole was one of 139 House Republicans who voted against certifying the Nov. 3 presidential election results on Jan. 6, hours after the violence, after the Republican president repeated his false claims of widespread voting fraud.
“The president of the United States instigated an attempted coup in this country,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said on the House floor before a procedural vote on moving forward with impeachment. “People died. Everybody should be outraged. If this is not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what the hell is.”
Some Republicans argued Democrats were rushing to judgment for political reasons and called for the creation of a commission to study the events surrounding the siege as an alternative.
If Trump is removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would become president and fill out his term.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, said Democrats intended to send the impeachment charge, once approved, to the Senate “as soon as possible,” and Pelosi named nine impeachment managers who would present the House’s case during a Senate trial.
Hoyer told reporters he expected between 10 and 20 House Republicans to vote for impeachment on Wednesday.
Washington is on high alert ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
Democrats moved forward on an impeachment vote after Pence rejected an effort to persuade him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove Trump.
The House previously voted to impeach Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election, as Democrats accused him of soliciting foreign interference to smear a domestic political rival. The Republican-led Senate in February 2020 voted to keep Trump in office.
Wednesday’s article of impeachment accused Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” saying he provoked violence against the U.S. government in a speech to thousands of supporters near the White House shortly before the Capitol siege. The article also cited Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call asking a Georgia official to “find” votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.
During his Jan. 6 speech, Trump falsely claimed he had defeated Biden, repeated unfounded allegations of widespread fraud and irregularities in a “rigged” election, told his supporters to “stop the steal,” “show strength,” “fight much harder” and use “very different rules” and promised to go with them to the Capitol, though he did not.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump told his supporters.
Democrats could also use an impeachment trial to push through a vote blocking Trump from running for office again.
Only a simple Senate majority is needed to disqualify Trump from future office, but there is disagreement among legal experts as to whether an impeachment conviction is required first.