By Richard Cowan and Joseph Ax, Reuters
Congressional Democrats accused U.S. President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection and weighed up impeaching him for a second time after supporters fired up by his false claims of election fraud stormed the U.S. Capitol this week.
Amid mounting calls for his removal from office, Trump finally denounced the violence that left five people dead, including a police officer. In a video released on Thursday evening, the Republican president called for reconciliation and also promised a smooth and orderly transition of power.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s assault, which halted a session of Congress held to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election win, Trump had declined to condemn the protesters but told them he loved them and repeated his claim that he was being cheated of victory.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s Cabinet to invoke the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which allows them to strip the president of his powers if he cannot discharge the duties of his office. Pence opposes the idea, an adviser said.
Pelosi and Schumer, along with other Democratic leaders, called for immediate impeachment proceedings if Pence and the Cabinet refuse to take steps to remove Trump from power. Biden is due to take office on Jan. 20.
“The president’s dangerous and seditious acts necessitate his immediate removal from office,” they said in a statement on Thursday evening, accusing Trump of inciting an “insurrection”.
Trump’s video on Thursday was the closest he has come to conceding defeat in the Nov. 3 election, as he promised a smooth transition to a “new administration,” after weeks of making false claims the election was rigged and there was massive electoral fraud.
In a speech on Wednesday, Trump had exhorted a crowd of thousands to descend on the Capitol. Rioters stormed the building, overwhelming police and forcing authorities to transport lawmakers to secure locations for their own safety.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries sustained in the assault, the force said on Thursday. A woman protester was fatally shot by the authorities, and three people died from medical emergencies.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME?
With Trump’s term almost expired, it was not clear whether there would be enough time to complete the impeachment process.
Pelosi has not announced a decision, though she told a news conference that rank-and-file Democrats in her caucus wanted action following Wednesday’s siege.
If impeached in the Democratic-led House, Trump would theoretically face trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is scheduled to be in recess until Jan. 19. Aides to Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, have not said what he would do if the House approved articles of impeachment.
The House impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, but the Senate acquitted him in February 2020. Only two other presidents in history have been impeached, and none has ever been impeached twice.
In Thursday’s video, a flat-toned Trump struck a conciliatory note seldom seen from him during his presidency, calling for “healing.” As recently as Thursday morning, however, he was still claiming the election was stolen, and he stopped short of acknowledging his loss.
The Trump campaign and its allies filed dozens of lawsuits challenging the vote counts but almost all were rejected in state and federal courts. Election officials have said there is no evidence to back Trump’s claims.
At least two Republicans, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, said Trump must go. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, seen as a leading voice of the Republican establishment, on Thursday called on Trump to resign.
Several high-ranking Trump administration officials have resigned in protest over the invasion of the Capitol, including two Cabinet members: Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary and McConnell’s wife, and Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.
At a news conference to introduce his pick for attorney general, Biden blamed Trump for instigating the attack but did not comment on his possible removal.
Congress certified Biden’s election victory early on Thursday, after authorities cleared the Capitol. More than half of House Republicans and eight Republican senators voted to challenge election results from some states, backing Trump.
The president has isolated himself among a small circle of diehard advisers and lashed out at those he perceives as disloyal, including Pence – whom Trump wanted to try to block Congress from certifying Biden’s win – according to sources.
The FBI offered a reward of up to $50,000 for information on people responsible for placing pipe bombs in the headquarters of the two main U.S. political parties. The agency released a picture of a suspect wearing gloves and a hoodie, carrying an object.