House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is readying Democrats for a lightning-fast second impeachment of President Donald Trump this week that risks consuming Congress in a bitter political fight just as President-elect Joe Biden’s administration is attempting to get off the ground.
With a groundswell of anger among Democrats over the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob encouraged by Trump, Pelosi said Sunday night the House would take up a resolution to impeach Trump for the second time in less than two years unless Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment this week to remove Trump from office.
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats. An article of impeachment accusing Trump of “Incitement of Insurrection” over his actions encouraging the mob that staged the deadly assault has drawn more than 200 Democratic co-sponsors and is set for introduction on Monday.
One issue Democrats will have to weigh in determining the course ahead is Biden’s agenda. With the Senate in recess, any trial for Trump could not begin until Jan. 20 at the earliest without the backing of all senators. And once a trial is under way, the Senate couldn’t take up other business, including Biden’s cabinet nominees and top-priority legislation such as boosting stimulus payments for most Americans.
Representative James Clyburn, a member the House Democratic leadership, said Sunday that the House could hold on to the articles of impeachment for as long as 100 days to provide some breathing room.
“I do have concerns, and so does Speaker Pelosi” about the impact on Biden’s administration, Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Let’s give president-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running. And maybe we will send the articles some time after that.”
Biden has trod carefully, saying on Friday that impeachment is a matter for Congress to decide. But he also said his inauguration would be the quickest way to get Trump out of office.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will first attempt Monday to gain unanimous consent for a resolution urging Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution “to declare the President incapable of executing the duties of his office,” Pelosi said. With expected Republican objections, that resolution will get a roll call vote on Tuesday.
Pence, who’s privately dismissed that course of action, will have 24 hours to respond, Pelosi said, and if he doesn’t “we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the floor.” A vote on impeachment could happen as soon as Wednesday.
Pelosi and other members of her leadership team plan a conference call Monday afternoon to discuss the path ahead.
Among Republicans there’s no emerging, unified position on a response to Trump’s actions of Jan. 6, but it’s clear most will oppose impeachment. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has set a conference call with rank-and-file member for Monday afternoon. But a high-level Republican aide said most Republicans are waiting to see what precisely Democrats decide to do.
There’s been an effort by Republicans to persuade Biden to squelch the Democratic momentum for impeaching Trump.
McCarthy, who was among the Republicans who voted against accepting Electoral College votes from two states Biden won — despite the riots — tweeted on Friday that an impeachment “will only divide our country more.”
Separately, a small group of House Republicans who opposed GOP objections to Biden’s Electoral College victory asked the president-elect to persuade Pelosi to back off from impeaching Trump. The lawmakers, led by Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, warned in a Saturday letter to Biden that impeachment would inflame Trump’s supporters and damage the incoming president’s efforts to unify the country.
A few Republicans have joined calls for Trump to resign, but the president has given no sign he’s contemplating it. He has plans this week to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border area to promote his wall building on the frontier, and is also said to be preparing at least one more round of pardons.
Trump and Pence haven’t spoken since Wednesday, when the vice president sheltered in a secure area at the Capitol while a mob, some of them chanting “hang Pence,” rampaged through the building. Trump publicly attacked Pence for not supporting his effort to overturn the election results. Still, the vice president has been privately dismissive of trying to use the 25th Amendment to drive Trump from office, one person familiar with the matter said.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to call Pence last week but were kept on hold and didn’t reach him. Nor did Pence call them back. “We were kept on the line for 20 minutes. ‘He’s going to be here in a minute, a minute, a minute.’ Well, he never did come to the phone,” Pelosi said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.
When an article of impeachment is finally sent to the Senate, it would take a two-thirds majority of the 100-member chamber to convict Trump. Only three presidents, including Trump, have ever been impeached by the House, and none has been convicted by the Senate.
Prospects for getting at least 17 Republican senators to vote for a conviction appear dim, despite widespread GOP displeasure with Trump’s actions, unless McConnell would back the effort.
Out of Office
There’s also no precedent for an impeachment trial after a president has left office, although there’s no prohibition against it. Backers of the impeachment drive say a conviction, even after Trump is gone from the White House, could ensure he’s barred from running for president again in 2024.
In her statement, Pelosi referenced the 14th Amendment, which was added to the Constitution after the Civil War and is aimed at prohibiting any government official who participated in or supported an insurrection against the U.S. from ever holding a state or federal government position again.
Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the Constitution’s framers never discussed the topic of a post-presidential impeachment trial, but that he reads their intent as “to ensure no one was above the law,” and that the structure would permit such a move.
“Otherwise, a president would know he can do whatever he wants in his last days in office — break laws or start wars or do any number of things that were abuses of power — and not be held accountable in Congress for his misconduct,” said Gerhardt, who testified to Congress in 2019 in the lead-up to Trump’s first impeachment.