Democrats were preparing to impeach Donald Trump on Wednesday in an effort that was joined by several Republicans and comes after Mike Pence ruled out using the 25th amendment to remove the US president.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is expected to vote to approve a charge of “incitement of insurrection” before the end of the day, making him the first president in history to be impeached twice.
The Senate will then hold a trial to determine whether to convict Mr Trump, but it is not expected to begin before the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on January 20.
Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, sent shockwaves through Washington on Tuesday when she said she would vote to impeach Mr Trump.
After her announcement, Mr Pence, US vice-president, issued his declaration that he would not invoke the 25th amendment to the US constitution, which provides a mechanism to remove a president who is deemed by a majority of his cabinet members to be unfit to hold office.
His move undercut a later vote in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers passed a non-binding motion supporting the invocation of the 25th amendment by 223 to 205.
Ms Cheney, a Wyoming lawmaker seen as a future Republican presidential contender, said she would vote to impeach Mr Trump for his role in the storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump supporters that left five people dead.
“The president . . . summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Ms Cheney, the daughter of former Republican vice-president Dick Cheney. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the US of his office and his oath to the constitution.”
Ms Cheney was joined by three other Republican congressmen: John Katko from New York, Adam Kinzinger from Illinois and Fred Upton from Michigan.
Mr Katko said Mr Trump encouraged the “insurrection . . . by deliberately promoting baseless theories that the election was somehow stolen”, while Mr Kinzinger said he “broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection”.
It marked a stark contrast to the situation a year ago when no House Republicans voted to impeach Mr Trump, who became the third president in history after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton to be impeached.
The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, was happy that the Democrats were pushing to impeach Mr Trump because he believed it would help the GOP to purge the president from its ranks after four years of turmoil.
The Senate is unlikely to start a trial before the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden, meaning Mr Trump will have left office. Democrats need 17 Republican senators to abandon Mr Trump to secure the two-thirds majority required to convict him — an outcome that looks very unlikely unless the move by Ms Cheney triggers similar moves by Senate peers.
In a letter to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, Mr Pence said he would not invoke the 25th amendment because “now is the time to heal” after the “horrific events” of last week.
His move came despite reports that Mr Trump and Mr Pence had fallen out following the deadly protests because the vice-president said he did not have the authority as Senate president to overturn the election result.
According to The New York Times, Mr Trump repeatedly put pressure on his vice-president, and at one point told Mr Pence: “You can either go down in history as a patriot . . . or you can go down in history as a pussy.”
Mr Trump later slammed Mr Pence on Twitter just as the vice-president was hunkered down in the Capitol in the midst of the violent attack.
In his first unscripted remarks since the rampage, Mr Trump on Tuesday denied any responsibility for the attack and said the move to impeach him was a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics”.
“I think it’s causing tremendous anger . . . and tremendous danger to our country,” Mr Trump said as he prepared to fly to Texas.
“We want no violence,” he added, as he defended a fiery speech he gave to supporters before the mob stormed the Capitol. “People thought what I said was totally appropriate.”
After his arrival in Alamo, Texas, Mr Trump said he faced no danger of being removed by the 25th amendment. “The 25th amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” he said.
In addition to the Republican House lawmakers saying they would vote to impeach Mr Trump, several Republican senators, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, have urged Mr Trump to resign.
Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who will become Senate majority leader next week, described Mr Trump’s comments on Tuesday as “despicable” and repeated calls for him to resign or be impeached.
“What Trump did today, blaming others for what he caused, is a pathological technique used by dictators,” he said.
Mr Trump has become increasingly isolated in his final days, with three Cabinet secretaries and his deputy national security adviser resigning in the wake of the attack, alongside a handful of administration staffers.
Separately on Tuesday, Google-owned YouTube became the latest big social media group to suspend Mr Trump’s account over fears he could incite further unrest ahead of Mr Biden’s inauguration.
The platform said it was imposing the ban for at least a week “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence”, and would also disable comments indefinitely on the president’s channel, which has 2.77m followers.
Last week Jim Steyer, one of the organisers of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign which led an advertiser boycott of Facebook last year over concerns around its moderation failures, told Reuters that the group was weighing a similar boycott of YouTube if it did not ban Mr Trump’s channel.
Additional reporting by Hannah Murphy in San Francisco
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