The US House of Representatives was poised on Wednesday officially to charge Donald Trump with inciting violence against the government of the United States one week after he rallied a mob of loyalists to storm the US Capitol , an extraordinary and historic measure that would make him the only American president ever to be impeached twice.
The unprecedented effort gained momentum overnight as senior Republican leaders in the House joined Democrats in support of removing Trump from office.
The single article of impeachment charges the defeated president with “inciting an insurrection” that led to what the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said would be immortalized as a “day of fire” on Capitol Hill.
The president, Pelosi said, arguing in favor of invoking the constitution’s gravest remedy, represented a “clear and present danger to the nation we all love”.
She was joined by six Republican members of the House, including congresswoman Liz Cheney, the No 3 House Republican and daughter of Dick Cheney, the vice-president for the Republican former president George W Bush.
Cheney said in a blistering statement that there had “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States” than Trump’s conduct on 6 January.
The deadly assault on 6 January came as members of Congress in both the House and Senate were in session to certify Joe Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election, a result Trump refused to accept. Five people died during the siege, including a police officer.
“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,” said congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat of Massachusetts and chair of the Rules Committee chairman, opening Wednesday’s session.
The emotionally-charged debate took place against a constant reminder of the death and destruction that had transpired just one week ago. The building lawmakers call the People’s House, poorly defended last Wednesday, by this Wednesday had been turned into a fortress, protected by thousands of national guard troops and with metal detectors stationed outside the chamber doors. Some Republicans rebelled against the new safety protocols, evading the security check.
A remorseless Trump on Tuesday had called his inflammatory language at a rally immediately before the mob marched on the US Congress and breaking in last week “totally appropriate”. Efforts to hold him accountable were noting more than a “continuation of the greatest witch-hunt in the history of politics,” he said.
Few Republicans were willing to defend Trump’s incendiary behavior. But those who opposed impeachment objected to the rushed nature of the proceedings and argued that there was little chance the president would be removed from office before the end of his term.
“I can think of no action the House can take that is more likely to further divide the American people,” said congressman Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, who was among the more than 120 House Republicans who voted last week to reject the electoral votes of key swing states that Biden won, despite officials at every level calling November’s vote the most secure election in US history.
Democrats were incensed by calls for bipartisanship, particularly from Republicans who refused to recognize Biden’s election victory and voted to overturn the results of a democratic election even after the assault on the Capitol.
“It’s a bit much to be hearing that these people would not be trying to destroy our government and kill us if we just weren’t so mean to them,” said congressman Jamie Raskin, a Democrat of Maryland who will serve as the lead impeachment manager.
The House proceeded with impeachment on Wednesday after Mike Pence formally rejected calls to strip Trump of power in an unprecedented invoking of the 25th amendment to the US constitution that allows for the removal of a sitting president if deemed unfit to perform his job.
Pence’s signal came just hours before the House passed a resolution calling on him to do so.
Trump’s day of reckoning on Capitol Hill came less than a year after he was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial for pressuring Ukraine to open investigations into Biden and his son. But with just days left of his presidency, the political landscape had shifted dramatically.
As fear turned to fury in the days since the siege, senior Republican leaders signaled both tacitly and explicitly a desire to purge the party of Trump. But their break with president came only after months of tolerating and indulging his campaign of lies about a stolen election, long after it was undeniably clear he had lost.
No House Republicans voted in support when Trump was impeached in 2019 over his attempts to persuade the leader of Ukraine to investigate the family of Joe Biden, then his election rival, now his incoming replacement in the White House.
The swift and historic second impeachment vote comes just one week after the riot in Washington DC – the first occupation of the US Capitol since British troops burned the building during the war of 1812 – and one week before Trump is due to leave office.
The formal charge, a single article of impeachment, was drafted as lawmakers were ducking under chairs and praying for safety during the attack. It charges Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States’’ by encouraging his supporters to march on the Capitol in a last stand to keep him in office by overturning the will of 81 million Americans who voted against him.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more,” he told the raucous crowd at last Wednesday morning’s gathering near the White House.
Rallying behind what they believed was a battle cry from an American president , thousands of loyalists stormed the Capitol in a violent rampage that threatened the lives of lawmakers, congressional staff, journalists and his own vice-president, who was there to fulfill his constitutional duty to count and certify the electoral college votes.
“In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government,” the article states. “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government.”
Two Senate Republicans have already called on Trump to resign, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, reportedly believes the president committed impeachable offenses.
The House was prepared to immediately transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate after Wednesday’s expected vote to impeach. On Wednesday, McConnell’s office said he would not reconvene the Senate before 19 January, meaning Trump’s impeachment trial would begin during the inaugural days of Biden’s presidency.
Though consequences for Trump will not include premature removal from office, the Senate trial would not be entirely symbolic.
Two-thirds of the 100-member body are required to convict a president, meaning 17 Republicans would have to join Democrats to find Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.
If convicted, it would then only require a simple majority to disqualify him from ever again holding public office.