WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats on Monday begin their drive to force President Donald Trump from office, kicking off a week of legislative action that could end with a vote that would make him the only president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol last week, scattering lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, in a harrowing assault on the center of American democracy that left five dead.
The violence came after Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol at a rally where he repeated false claims that his resounding election defeat was illegitimate. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, many of her fellow Democrats and a handful of Republicans say Trump should not be trusted to serve out his term, which ends on Jan. 20.
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi wrote to fellow House Democrats on Sunday.
Dozens of people who attacked police officers, stole computers and smashed windows at the Capitol have been arrested for their role in the violence, and officials have opened 25 domestic terrorism investigations.
Trump acknowledged that a new administration would take office on Jan. 20 in a video statement after the attack but has not appeared in public. Twitter and Facebook have suspended his accounts, citing the risk of him inciting violence.
When the House convenes at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) on Monday, lawmakers will bring up a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the never-used 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows the vice president and the Cabinet to remove a president deemed unfit to do the job. A recorded vote is expected on Tuesday.
Pence was in the Capitol along with his family when Trump’s supporters attacked, and he and Trump are currently not on speaking terms. But Republicans have shown little interest in invoking the 25th Amendment. Pence’s office did not respond to questions about the issue. A source said last week he was opposed to the idea.
POSSIBLE INSURRECTION CHARGE
If Pence does not act, Pelosi said the House could vote to impeach Trump on a single charge of insurrection. That vote could come by the end of the week.
Aides to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who voted against recognizing Biden’s victory, did not respond to a request for comment.
House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate voted not to convict him.
Democrats’ latest effort to force Trump out also faces long odds of success without bipartisan support. Only four Republican lawmakers have so far said publicly that Trump should not serve out the remaining nine days in his term.
The lawmakers who drafted the impeachment charge say they have locked in the support of at least 200 of the chamber’s 222 Democrats, indicating strong odds of passage. Biden has so far not weighed in on impeachment, saying it is a matter for Congress.
Even if the House impeaches Trump for a second time, the Senate would not take up the charges until Jan. 19 at the earliest, Trump’s last full day in office.
An impeachment trial would tie up the Senate during Biden’s first weeks in office, preventing the new president from installing Cabinet secretaries and acting on priorities like coronavirus relief.
Representative Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, suggested his chamber could avoid that problem by waiting several months to send the impeachment charge over to the Senate.
Trump would be long gone by then, but a conviction would bar him from running for president again in 2024.
The votes also would force Trump’s Republicans to again defend his behavior.
Several prominent U.S. corporations, including Marriott International Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co, have said they will suspend donations to the nearly 150 Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s victory, and more are considering that step.
Washington remains on high alert ahead of Biden’s inauguration. The event traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city, but has been scaled back dramatically because of the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who will become majority leader after Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are inaugurated and the two new Democratic senators from Georgia are seated, said on Sunday that the threat from violent extremist groups remained high.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney
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