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US House poised to impeach Trump; McConnell spurns immediate trial

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

Donald Trump | US Capitol | US Capitol attack

David Morgan & Richard Cowan | Reuters  |  Washington 

President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 US presidential election in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump.

As the House of Representatives moved on Wednesday toward a vote to make the first US president to be impeached twice, the Senate's top Republican rejected Democratic calls to reconvene the chamber for an immediate trial, all but ensuring Trump will not be ousted before his term ends next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told the chamber's top Democrat Chuck Schumer he is unwilling to call an emergency session to consider removing Trump from office following a House impeachment, a McConnell spokesman said.

The House planned to vote on a single article of impeachment - a formal charge - accusing Trump of "incitement of insurrection" just a week after a pro-Trump mob rampaged through the in a deadly attack. The rioters disrupted the formal certification of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the Nov. 3 election and sent lawmakers into hiding. Biden is due to take office on Jan. 20.

The mob acted followed an incendiary speech Trump delivered to thousands of supporters in which he repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and urged them to march on the Capitol. Five people, including a police officer, died as a result of the violence.

An emotional debate, conducted with extraordinary security inside and outside the Capitol including armed National Guard personnel, unfolded in the same House chamber where lawmakers had crouched under chairs and donned gas masks on Jan. 6 as rioters clashed with police officers outside the doors.

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"The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on the House floor.

"He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."

Democratic congressman Julian Castro, a former presidential candidate, called Trump "the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office." Fellow Democrat Maxine Waters accused Trump of wanting a civil war.

No US president ever has been removed from office through impeachment. Three - Trump in 2019, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 - previously have been impeached by the House but were left in power by the Senate.

Some Republicans argued that the impeachment drive was a rush to judgment that bypassed the customary deliberative process including hearings and called on Democrats to abandon the effort for the sake of national unity. Most Republicans did not actually defend Trump's words or actions.

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"Impeaching the president in such a short time frame would be a mistake," said Kevin McCarthy, the House's top Republican.

"That doesn't mean the president is free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters."

Trump's closest allies, such as Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, went further, accusing Democrats of recklessly acting out of pure political interest.

"This is about getting the president of the United States," said Jordan, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump in a private White House ceremony this week. "It's always been about getting the president, no matter what. It's an obsession."

'I'm choosing truth'

A handful of Republicans have said they will support impeachment, including Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican.

Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler said she would vote to impeach Trump, drawing applause from Democrats.

"I am not choosing a side, I'm choosing truth," she said.

"It's the only way to defeat fear."

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In a break from standard procedure, Republican leaders in the House have refrained from urging their members to vote against impeaching Trump, saying the vote was a matter of individual conscience.

Under the US Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority in the Republican-led Senate would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.

McConnell has said no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Jan. 19, only a day before Biden's inauguration. The trial would proceed in the Senate even after Trump leaves office.

A source said earlier on Wednesday that the Republican Senate leadership had discussed whether to initiate a trial as early as Friday.

No Republican senators have said they would vote to convict.

Two have called on Trump to resign.

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.

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Trump in a statement on Wednesday urged his supporters to remain peaceful, saying, "I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for."

'Cancel the president'

Impeachment is a remedy devised by America's 18th century founders to enable Congress to remove a president who has, according to the Constitution, committed "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." If Trump is removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would become president and fill out his term.

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.

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Wednesday's article of impeachment accused Trump of "incitement of insurrection," saying he provoked violence against the US government in his speech 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.

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"This is a moment of truth, my friends," Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly told his colleagues ahead of the vote. "Are you on the side of chaos and the mob or are on the side of constitutional democracy and our freedom?"

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First Published: Wed, January 13 2021. 20:00 IST