WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump spent his single term touting the exceptionalism of his presidency but the distinction that may well define his legacy happened Wednesday as the House voted to impeach him, again, 232–197.
The scene was all too familiar Wednesday.
As in the 2019 impeachment of the former reality television host, lawmakers pored over details of the Trump presidency that have bitterly divided members of Congress as well as the country. Ultimately just 10 Republicans supported impeachment, despite having seen the president’s supporters call for their “heads on spikes” just a week earlier.
While some Republicans like Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma banged the drum of “flawed process” before the vote, others proved unable to muster support for the president after the recent turmoil.
Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler said her vote to impeach Trump was not a fear-based decision.
“I am not choosing a side, I am choosing truth,” the Washington state congresswoman said. “It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
America has undergone impeachment proceedings against a U.S. president only four times. Half of all those House proceedings have involved Trump. Last time, he was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress thanks to a pressure campaign he lobbed on a foreign president to get dirt on a political opponent.
This time, Trump was impeached for the high crime and misdemeanor of incitement of insurrection, having encouraged extremists in his support base to storm what many congressional and Senate leadership call the “temple of Democracy.”
“Donald Trump is a living, breathing impeachable act,” Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries said from the House floor Wednesday ahead of the vote. “It is what it is. The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was an act of insurrection incited by Donald Trump.”
The Jan. 6 armed attack was only the second time in history that U.S. Capitol building had withstood such a breach — British troops set the structure ablaze during the war of 1812.
In last week’s riot, meanwhile, U.S. Capitol Police attempted to guard the space as lawmakers in both the House and Senate gathered to debate the counting of certified electors. The violence unfolded chaotically and quickly as Trump’s supporters called for nothing less than the death of the three officials next in the line of succession: Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate President pro tempore Chuck Grassley.
No member of Congress was ultimately harmed, but four civilians were killed Wednesday and a member of the U.S. Capitol Police who was bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher died later in hospital. A second officer took his own life this weekend.
Initial reports this morning suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would support Trump’s impeachment. As the day wore on, however, the Kentucky lawmaker proved in no rush to hear allegations against the president.
“I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said in a note circulated among leadership.
McConnell also signaled he wouldn’t convene the world’s greatest legislative body to meet before Jan. 19. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called for a rarely invoked emergency session but was denied.
“The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the president. The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the articles from the House,” McConnell said in a statement after the vote on Wednesday.
Saying there was “simply no chance” a fair or serious trial could be conducted before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week, he noted that, even if a process were begun immediately and move quickly, a final verdict would not be reached before the inauguration.
“This is not a decision I am making: It is a fact. The president-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency,” he said.
Since a trial would likely not begin until after Biden is already sworn in, the process is not totally moot for those who want to see Trump’s power neutered. A conviction by the Senate could potentially bar him from running for office in the future, but it would likely require a simple majority of senators to agree that he should never be allowed to run again after his conviction.
As for criticism of a “snap impeachment” that erupted in Rules committee debate last night, Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon noted that President Andrew Johnson was impeached in just three days.
The Pennsylvania lawmaker said the evidence against Trump is as plain as it had been in that 1800s-era impeachment setting— Johnson sent a letter informing Congress he had dismissed the secretary of war, mailing evidence of presidential misconduct to lawmakers’ desks. Trump had done the same through his mob incitement, she said, sending a mob to Congress’ lap.
Trump, mere hours before being impeached, issued a statement through the White House, which this weekend is expected to receive extra fortification.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, 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. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You,” Trump said. [Emphasis original]