Behind the Democrats' new push to impeach President Trump

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WASHINGTON — What may become the second impeachment of President Trump started as lawmakers huddled in a secure location on Wednesday while rioters stormed through the hallways of the U.S. Capitol.

Two days before the assault, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota began drafting articles of impeachment based on a recording showing Trump pressured Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn the results of the presidential election there. As the crowds ransacked the Capitol dome and the members of Congress sheltered in place, Omar began updating her articles of impeachment to include the president’s role in the violence, according to a source who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Now Trump could face impeachment charges before the House as early as Monday.

The chaotic scene at the Capitol followed Trump’s “Stop The Steal” rally on the National Mall on Wednesday where he repeated his false claims that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in last year’s election was fraudulent.

During that rally, the president declared, “I know everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building. To peacefully, patriotically make your voices heard.”

The crowd followed Trump’s lead and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue where they breached barricades and overwhelmed the Capitol police. The Trump supporters, many of whom came prepared with weapons and military-style tactical gear, broke into the Capitol building and ransacked offices. The deaths of five people have been tied to the ensuing melee on Wednesday, including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was reportedly struck by a fire extinguisher, and Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by police during the assault.

As the rioters raged under the Capitol dome, members of Congress were evacuated to the secure location where Omar got to work revising her articles of impeachment and drumming up support for an effort to remove Trump from office for inciting the violence. Omar, who became one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress after she was elected in 2018, has received numerous death threats. As a result, when the lawmakers were evacuated, she was taken to a room with congressional leadership. Inside, the source said she got the backing of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

“Go for it,” Hoyer reportedly said.

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. (Eric Miller/Reuters)

Hoyer subsequently issued his own statement on Thursday saying he hoped to see Trump removed through the 25th Amendment, which provides procedures for the replacement of the president in the event of death or incapacitation.

“Donald Trump has demonstrated he is a clear and present danger to the American people and our democracy, and he should be removed from office. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment would be the quickest way to proceed, but Congress should consider impeachment if that Amendment is not invoked,” Hoyer said.

In the 48 hours since that tense scene in the secure location, a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are backing Omar’s impeachment legislation. Two other articles of impeachment were drafted.

The Democratic caucus debated the potential paths forward on a conference call that started at noon Friday and lasted for over four hours. When it concluded, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she had called for the Rules Committee to move forward with one of the motions for impeachment next week if Trump doesn’t step down on his own.

“Today, the House Democratic Caucus had an hours-long conversation that was sad, moving and patriotic. It was a conversation unlike any other, because it followed an action unlike any other,” Pelosi said. “It is the hope of Members that the President will immediately resign. But if he does not, I have instructed the Rules Committee to be prepared to move forward with Congressman Jamie Raskin’s 25th Amendment legislation and a motion for impeachment.”

During the call, Pelosi said she was set to talk with President-elect Joe Biden, according to a senior staffer for a Democratic House member, and the Democratic caucus was ready to accept his marching orders.

“If Pelosi comes back and says Biden said, ‘Impeach the motherf***er,’ that’s what we’re going to do,” said the staffer, who requested anonymity to discuss the confidential caucus call.

A second senior aide for a Democratic House member who also requested anonymity confirmed the caucus was looking for input from Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20.

“I think we’re waiting on guidance from Biden. We don’t want to do anything to complicate his first 100 days,” the staffer said.

While the first staffer said Democrats were ready to follow Biden’s lead, they were doubtful Biden would push Pelosi to impeach Trump.

“Biden seems like he’s staying out of it,” said the staffer. “I think it’s appropriate. This should be Congress’s call.”

Indeed, shortly before 3 p.m., as the Democratic Caucus call stretched into its third hour, Biden spoke at a press conference in Delaware where he indicated he is focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office later this month.

“I’ve thought for a long, long time that President Trump wasn’t fit for the job. That’s why I ran,” Biden said.

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for the removal of Trump either by invocation of the 25th Amendment or by impeachment trial and conviction. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

That left the matter up to the Democratic Caucus, which has a majority in the House of Representatives. With no orders from Biden, the caucus continued their debate on the call. Democratic leadership said it would allow anyone who wanted to speak to participate in the conversation. During the conversation, the staffer said the caucus’s chairman, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., admonished the other members not to leak details of the conversation. Jeffries did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has faced mounting outrage from both sides of the aisle in the wake of Wednesday’s riot, and his rally, which took place as the Senate was preparing to certify the electoral results.

Multiple members of Trump’s administration have resigned amid the uproar over the president’s inciting remarks and his decision not to call reinforcements to the Capitol during the initial wave of violence.

After Omar drafted her articles of impeachment, she was followed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and a resolution was circulated by three congressmen: David Cicilline, Ted Lieu, and Jamie Raskin. Pelosi ultimately opted to move forward with Raskin’s resolution.

The source said the lawmakers are working collaboratively. Cicilline, Lieu, and Raskin were co-leads on Omar’s legislation while she was an original co-sponsor of theirs. The source described the thinking among the Democrats leading the impeachment push as “let a thousand flowers bloom.”

If Trump is impeached next week, it will be his second time facing potential removal from office. Trump was previously impeached in December 2019 over allegations he pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden. The Republican Senate majority voted not to convict him.

On the caucus call, the staffer said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the last impeachment trial, was focused on the 25th Amendment. Schiff discussed “fast-tracking” a bill Raskin introduced that would have established a commission on presidential capacity which could work with the vice president to declare the president unfit.

Vice President Mike Pence has indicated he is not willing to invoke the 25th Amendment. Raskin, a constitutional scholar, indicated he favors impeachment at this point. Pelosi ultimately decided on a dual-pronged strategy that involves moving forward on Raskin’s commission bill and the articles of impeachment he drafted with Lieu and Cicilline.

Donald Trump
Trump holding a "Save America Rally" near the White House on Wednesday. (Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Not every Democrat is backing the new impeachment push. According to the House staffer, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., spoke up on the caucus call and indicated he felt impeaching Trump in the final 12 days of his term would be rushed and lacking due process. Schrader called a potential Trump impeachment a “lynching.”

Schrader subsequently issued a statement apologizing for his comments.

“I take complete responsibility for the language I used on the Caucus Conference call this afternoon,” he said. “My words were wrong, hurtful and completely inappropriate. I sincerely apologize to my colleagues, constituents and friends for the pain I caused.”

If the Democrats do introduce articles of impeachment in the House, the focus will move to the Senate, where they would need to hold a speedy trial. Senate Republicans will then play a decisive role as some of them would need to cross the aisle in order for the president to be convicted and removed.

This story was updated at 8:47 p.m. to include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s statement.


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