“It’s hard to exaggerate the culpability of this unhinged person,” Pelosi told Democrats on a private caucus call on Friday. “We cannot empower him.”
While there is still much to be worked through, Democratic leaders are expected to decide Friday on their next steps, according to several lawmakers and aides. There is widespread agreement within the caucus that Trump is a threat to democracy and should be immediately removed from office and barred from ever running again but just how to do that is under discussion.
Even if the House does impeach Trump, it’s far from clear the GOP-controlled Senate would act before his presidency runs out in 12 days. Senate Republicans have largely rejected the push so far.
Majority House Whip Jim Clyburn said in an interview Friday he doesn’t think the House should wait on Vice President Mike Pence to make a decision on removal.
“I believe these things are to be running simultaneously. We don’t have to wait to see if Pence does what he’s supposed to do. Let’s just assume he will,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said the caucus should finalize their articles of impeachment over the weekend, with the House Judiciary Committee prepared to file them on Monday followed by a floor vote as soon as possible.
Asked if he thought there would be a critical mass of members to support such a fast process, Clyburn said, ”Oh I think so, and I think it’ll be bipartisan.”
Rep. Katherine Clark, the assistant House speaker, predicted Friday morning on CNN that the House could vote by the middle of next week. Other Democrats said it could happen sooner.
Democrats are moving rapidly in the waning days of Trump’s presidency — fueled by a fiery anger over Trump’s role in the deadly assault on the Capitol that left one U.S. Capitol Police officer and four others dead, and forced hundreds of lawmakers to flee from violence while insurrectionists occupied their offices and both chambers of Congress.
Pelosi herself — who watched rioters invade her office, use her computer and take selfies in her chair — is irate, calling Trump’s conduct an act of “treason” in a call with her leadership team on Thursday night. She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump and said if he did not act, they would move to impeach.
Two sets of articles of impeachment have already been drafted, and Democratic leaders have coalesced behind those led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. That proposal says Trump deserves removal — and would permanently bar him from public office — for “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States.”
The resolution also accuses Trump of improperly pressuring Georgia’s secretary of state to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory on false pretenses.
One focus for Cicilline and other top Democrats in the coming days will be recruiting House Republicans to buck their party and their president on the floor. Democrats believe the GOP will have at least one defection: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (D-Ill.), who became the first House Republican to call for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment. A spokeswoman said Friday that if Congress decides to impeach Trump, Kinzinger would likely support it.
Democrats also have their eyes on House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who they have heard is still working through how to proceed but hasn’t ruled anything out.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday said he had reached out to Biden and plans to speak to him about how working together to lower the political temperature. But he also came out against trying to oust Trump, saying, “impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more.”
And most House Republicans — even those who say they are appalled by Trump’s behavior — seem reluctant to go down the impeachment path for the same reasons. Some, including freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), who represents a frontline district, have already preemptively put out statements saying they would oppose impeachment.
Moderate Democrats — which are a critical faction in Pelosi’s caucus, particularly with the much tighter margins this Congress — privately say they still prefer an approach centered on the 25th Amendment. But it’s unlikely they would block a path to impeachment, if that is what Pelosi chooses, according to several sources familiar with their thinking.
One issue for Pelosi: her majority is much smaller than when the House impeached Trump over his pressure campaign against Ukraine in December 2019, after treading cautiously for months. Back then, an intense effort to unify the caucus led to only two defections.
Some Democrats are also wary of impeaching Trump — just days after spasms of violence rocked the Capitol — amid an uncertain security environment, particularly as authorities are preparing to secure Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
House Democrats have extremely limited time to launch the proceedings against the president, if they intend to remove him before his term expires. Democrats have discussed ways to further fast track the process, including bringing impeachment articles directly to the floor.
Though it typically runs through the House Judiciary Committee, the panel has not yet been formally organized and its chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), along with other key members, say the impeachment articles will need to go straight to the House floor.
If Democrats pass articles early next week — and Pelosi immediately sent them to the Senate — the Senate would be required to begin a trial immediately under congressional rules. Trump’s first impeachment trial, on charges he abused his power and obstructed a congressional investigation, ultimately lasted four weeks before the Senate delivered its verdict.
That timetable suggests the goal of any impeachment is unlikely to be Trump’s removal and is much more focused on the option to prevent him from holding federal office in the future. Some Democrats believe that possibility could woo Senate Republicans, some of whom are eyeing a 2024 bid themselves.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Friday that he would consider Trump’s removal depending on how it plays out in the House.
“The House, if they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move,” Sasse said in an interview with “CBS This Morning” on Friday. “What he did was wicked.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another potential White House aspirant who opposed Trump’s effort to challenge Biden’s electoral votes, declined to comment to reporters in the Capitol Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office also declined to comment.
But other key Senate Republicans signaled they had no interest in trying to oust the president.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said a last-minute attempt to impeach Trump would backfire.
“Any attempt to impeach President Trump would not only be unsuccessful in the Senate but would be a dangerous precedent for the future of the presidency,” Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told a local TV reporter that it was “a ridiculous discussion” to have. “We don’t have the time for it to happen, even if there was a reason,” he said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in an interview that he would support any legal remedy to removing Trump, but cast doubts on both removal through the impeachment process and the 25th Amendment.
“For the safety of our nation and the sake of our nation and also our international standing, it’d be best if President Trump left immediately. So whatever ways,” Manchin said. “If you say impeachment, we’ve already voted to impeach once. Are there 20 other Republican senators that will vote to impeach now?”
Manchin, once one of the few Senate Democrats who tried to work with Trump, said it would be far more realistic to have Cabinet members speak out against the president and for Twitter to unplug his account.
Top Democrats are still discussing the 25th Amendment path, though it became far less likely after Pence rejected calls to remove Trump from power with the support of him and the Cabinet. Democrats could still choose to pursue a bill from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), which would create an outside commission to recommend Trump’s removal, possibly including former presidents. Other Democrats, though, have said that approach would fail because Pence would still need to agree to the panel’s findings in order to remove Trump.
Scores of congressional Democrats — as well as numerous former federal officials, some governors and at least two Republican House members — have all called for Trump’s immediate removal from office, either by impeachment or the Cabinet’s invocation of the 25th Amendment.
Dozens of those House Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Clyburn on Wednesday urging them not to take the House’s scheduled recess next week.
“We are the only branch of government that is capable of governing this country and led by sane and competent people,” the letter, which was led by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), reads.
“Going home and staying home until the eve of President Biden’s inauguration should not be an option.”
Natasha Korecki, Burgess Everett and Quint Forgey contributed to this report.