U.S. House begins debate on impeaching Donald Trump after procedural votes

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a series of procedural votes midday Wednesday to advance legislation paving the way for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Trump, who could become the only U.S. president twice impeached, faces a single charge of “incitement of insurrection.” The House voted 221 to 203 to advance the resolution to be considered, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling him a “clear and present danger.”

The stunning collapse of Trump’s final days in office, against alarming warnings of more violence ahead by his followers, leaves the nation at an uneasy and unfamiliar juncture before Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

The House chaplain opened the session early Wednesday with a prayer for “seizing the scales of justice from the jaws of mob-ocracy.”

Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern began to make the party’s case that the only remedy was Trump’s removal.

“Domestic terrorists broke into the United States Capitol and it’s a miracle more people didn’t die,” McGovern said of the Jan. 6 violence.

“These were not protesters. These were not patriots. These were traitors. These were domestic terrorists, and they were acting under the orders of Donald Trump,” he added.

Republicans push for censure, commission

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole urged Democrats to consider other measures, and he and colleagues from his party who spoke early on pushed for a formal censure that Cole claimed would have “significant bipartisan support,” as well as a national commission to understand the events that lead to the deadly Capitol siege.

“There’s still time to choose a different path, one that leads to reconciliation,” said Cole.

Cole objected to what he called a rushed process, with no scheduled witnesses testifying. He said that legal experts in the past week have arrived at “dramatically different conclusions” as to whether Trump’s words and actions justified an impeachment charge.

But elsewhere in his party, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan — a staunch Trump ally — repeated from the floor some of the baseless allegations about wrongdoing in the election, particularly with respect to the Pennsylvania vote.

The impeachment bill draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

Five deaths have been connected to the Jan. 6 riots, two in violent fashion. A San Diego woman who travelled to Washington to protest the certification of Biden’s win, Ashli Babbitt, was shot to death, while Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was assaulted in the violence and later died in hospital.

Three other people were said to have suffered medical episodes leading to death, while another Capitol Police officer on duty that day died by suicide on Jan. 9.Lawmakers had to scramble for safety and hide as rioters took control of the Capitol and delayed by hours the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.

The outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

WATCH l Trump pans House’s efforts:

Staging what will surely be one of his ‘last stands’ before a section of border wall in Texas, U.S. President Donald Trump praised his accomplishments while deriding Democratic efforts to impeach him for the second time even as members of Congress prepare for an impeachment vote. 3:02

The four-page impeachment resolution relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a White House rally on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in building its case for high crimes and misdemeanours as demanded in the Constitution.

Trump took no responsibility for the riot, suggesting it was the drive to oust him, rather than his actions around the bloody riot, that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said Tuesday, his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence. While there may be anger in some conservative circles, the poll trackers at FiveThirtyEight analyzed nine polls, finding 52 per cent support Trump’s removal by impeachment in a weighted average of the polls, with 42 per cent opposed.

Limited House Republican support so far

At least five Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, were unswayed by the president’s logic. The Republicans announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership and the party itself.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney said in a statement Tuesday explaining her decision.

Hundreds of National Guard troops are seen inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington, as their colleagues were posted throughout the complex. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

While Democrats welcomed the decision, some Republicans such as Jordan have gone on record to call for her removal as chair of the House Republican Conference.

So far, Republican Reps. John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Fred Upton of Michigan and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state announced they, too, would join Cheney to vote to impeach.

Heightened tensions, security

Security was exceptionally tight Wednesday, with shocking images showing National Guard troops massed at the iconic Capitol, with secure perimeters around the complex and metal-detector screenings required for lawmakers entering the House chamber.

In a remarkable statement on Tuesday, the U.S. military brass issued a memo reminding service members that Biden was duly elected.

“Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values and oath; it is against the
law,” the memo said.

Several people found to have been unlawfully inside the Capitol during the events of Jan. 6 have been identified as having served in the U.S. military.

Late Tuesday, the House tried first to push Vice-President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to intervene, passing a resolution calling on them to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump from office.

Pence made it clear in a letter to Pelosi that he would not do so, saying it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is said to be angry at Trump, but it’s not clear when the Senate could reconvene the legislative body, let alone how an impeachment trial in that chamber would play out.

Trump was impeached just over a year ago for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for trying to strong-arm Ukraine’s leader to help damage Biden politically.