clock menu more-arrow no yes
Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks with 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl inside the US Capitol on January 8.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Why Democrats are moving toward impeachment — 12 days before Trump leaves office

After the Capitol insurrection, Democrats want to get Trump out of office as quickly as possible.

Reeling from a violent insurrection by supporters of President Donald Trump, a growing number of House Democrats are pushing to impeach the president for a second time.

This time, they’re not waiting around.

The House is poised to introduce articles of impeachment on Monday, which could lead to a vote shortly thereafter, Vox has confirmed. Articles of impeachment are being drafted by Reps. David Cicilline, Ted Lieu, and Jamie Raskin, and so far include impeaching Trump for “abuse of power,” per a draft Cicilline circulated Thursday. CNN’s Manu Raju has also reported the latest draft of the articles cite “incitement of insurrection.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday evening that House lawmakers hope Trump 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,” Pelosi added.

With just a week and a half left until President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, this is night and day from how House Democrats approached impeachment two years ago. In 2019, they spent months publicly downplaying the prospects of impeaching the president — before an explosive phone call where Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on Trump’s political enemies was revealed and set the process in motion.

This time, Democrats say their reasons to move forward with impeachment are self-evident: They can be seen in the destruction of the US Capitol after a mob of violent Trump supporters invaded on Wednesday. They can be seen in the five people left dead from the storming of the Capitol, including 42-year-old US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

“In 2019, we were facing a president that was slowly eroding our Democratic norms,” Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told Vox in a Friday interview. “In this case, we see this in real time. This isn’t him slowly moving toward an unforgivable event; this is a president who encouraged violence against the House of Representatives as it was trying to certify an election.”

Sherrill moved cautiously with impeachment in 2019, and was one of a group of moderate veterans of the military and US intelligence agencies whose decision to move forward with impeaching Trump set off a chain reaction in the Democratic caucus. Sherrill told Vox Friday she’d like to see action from Trump’s Cabinet first — Pelosi and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also urged the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president in a Friday Dear Colleague letter but none of them are holding their breath.

“I think what’s really critical is that we remove him from office as quickly as possible,” she said. “I’d prefer the vice president would start procedures to remove him.” But as that looks unlikely, Sherrill and many of her colleagues aren’t ruling out impeachment.

“If that’s censure, if that’s impeachment, we need to do what we can,” she told Vox.

Not all Democrats are on board. At least one, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, told the House Democratic caucus he was against impeaching Trump, per ABC News. And centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) told the Washington Post he thinks holding an impeachment trial in the US Senate could slow down Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s Cabinet.

“We have to put our government together quickly — that’s the most important thing we should do,” Manchin told the Post. “We don’t need any more political theater.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is not in favor of an impeachment trail in the US Senate.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

As with everything in Washington, there is a political consideration for how Democrats proceed next. Trump has literally a dozen days left in office, but there’s another consideration to make regarding impeachment: If Trump is impeached by the House and convicted by the US Senate, he could be barred from running for office in the future.

Impeaching Trump — again — would enable lawmakers to both send a message about the need for accountability from the president and potentially impose lasting consequences.

The politics of removing Trump from office is personal for House Democrats

Because of Trump’s clear role in riling up his supporters who then attacked the Capitol — and the deadly violence that ensued — many House lawmakers see an explicit case for impeachment.

“The difference in the politics here is that this is something everyone saw,” a senior Democratic aide told Vox. “This is not a Zelensky call where there is a debate on various legalities.”

Democrats’ case for impeachment primarily hinges on Trump’s role in stoking the mob that later stormed the Capitol. Trump spoke to a crowd of his supporters in front of the White House on Wednesday, repeatedly saying the election was “stolen” and asking them to march to the Capitol “to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders or whether or not we have leaders that should be ashamed of themselves throughout history, throughout eternity.” Trump used the word “fight” many times throughout his speech.

That may be the most recent and serious case of Trump casting doubt on the election, but Democrats also mention Trump’s recent phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he encouraged Raffensperger to “find” more than 11,000 votes to overturn the election — as well as Trump’s continued rhetoric about a fraudulent election.

But the biggest thing Democrats are focused on is how Trump’s continued lies resulted in violence and death at the nation’s Capitol — marking the first time Capitol Hill was breached since the British invasion of 1812, and the first time by American citizens.

Pro-Trump rioters used metal bars and tear gas to over take Capitol Police and breach the building.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s about holding the president accountable for inciting violence against the nation’s capital,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) told Vox. “An impeachment would prevent him from running again, would strip him of access to classified information, so there’s reason for us to move to impeach.”

Already, many moderate members have signed on to Cicilline, Raskin, and Lieu’s articles of impeachment or expressed openness to considering the process, suggesting momentum for this move within the caucus as lawmakers grapple with how to respond to Wednesday’s attack.

“I’d prefer Cabinet officials to take action, but I will be ready to consider other steps, such as impeachment, in the short time we have left,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) said in a Thursday statement.

Slotkin, along with several other centrist Democrats including Sherrill and Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Jason Crow (D-CO), and Elaine Luria (D-VA) wrote the op-ed that was ultimately a tipping point for impeachment in the House last time around. Several of its authors were slow to back the first impeachment process but have been much quicker to weigh in on this pending one.

“Every Democrat is already on board pretty much,” Cook Political Report House editor Dave Wasserman told Vox. “In the runup to the last impeachment, the center of gravity in the House initially stood with the national security freshman who wrote that letter. This time the line in the House is already at Adam Kinzinger,” a Republican lawmaker from Illinois.

The context of the impeachment process is also significantly different from the previous impeachment: House members were just reelected and won’t face reelection for another two years. Emerging victorious from a Senate runoff in Georgia, Democrats also just won back control of the Senate by a slim majority; however, the two new Georgia senators likely won’t be seated until after Biden’s inauguration.

For his part, Biden is staying out of any decision to impeach Trump.

“What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” Biden told reporters at an event announcing his Cabinet on Friday.

President-elect Joe Biden announces Cabinet nominees from Wilmington, Delaware, on January 8.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The fallout from Wednesday’s insurrection is also personal for many who experienced it. In addition to the armed standoff security members had with insurrectionists on the House floor, members of the pro-Trump mob went into Pelosi’s office to take pictures, steal her mail, and rip her wooden nameplate off the door. Pelosi also spoke about her concern for Hill staffers who had to endure the trauma of the Wednesday attack.

“To see in the eyes of so many of the staff people, especially the younger ones, the trauma, the fright that it was for them to be locked into rooms with terrorists banging on the doors,” Pelosi told reporters. “They didn’t sign up for that. We didn’t sign them up for that.”

Many Congress members and staff were trapped for hours inside the Capitol, including those inside the House chamber when tear gas was deployed, and others forced to use furniture to barricade their offices closed. “There’s an immediacy to this,” a progressive aide told Vox. “There was busted glass and tear gas everywhere.”

There’s little to no appetite for impeachment on the GOP side

Despite the concerns they’ve expressed about Trump’s conduct, Republicans more broadly have opposed impeachment: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy noted that the timing would be tight since President-elect Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated on January 20, and questioned whether it’s worthwhile to pursue this route at this time. He and others have also suggested that this could be a divisive way for Congress to kick off Biden’s administration, urging Democrats to focus instead on the peaceful transfer of power.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speak during a joint session of Congress on January 6.
Erin Schaff/Getty Images

“Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more,” McCarthy said in a Friday statement, which drew incredulity and disgust from some House Democrats.

“Kevin McCarthy has no guts, he lacks courage, he’s a political animal and he’s incapable of putting the country and democracy ... ahead of his own political interests,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) told Vox on Friday.

McCarthy’s framing also obscures how Trump has instigated these very divisions and rallied people to oppose Biden’s win. Democrats have emphasized that impeachment is a critical way to call out the president’s wrongdoing and force an acknowledgment of it. There’s also a very real fear among some that an increasingly isolated president could do additional harm to the country over the next 12 days.

“I’m not sure what more he could do in the next week and a half ... he could do something very, very bad,” Sherrill said.

Republicans finding the desire to confront the president in this way, however, seems unlikely — despite the critiques they’ve issued of the violence at the Capitol and Trump’s response to it.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, thus far, is one of few GOP members who have expressed support for the invocation of the 25th Amendment, calling for the vice president and Cabinet members to remove the president. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) is the only Republican senator who’s said he’ll consider articles of impeachment, while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), the lone Republican senator who previously voted to convict Trump said lawmakers would face a tight timeline.

“I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 days,” Romney told HuffPost’s Igor Bobic.

The Senate is poised to reject the articles again if they’re approved

Given the resistance from Republicans, the Senate isn’t expected to convict Trump even if the House approves article(s) of impeachment. Much like McCarthy, multiple Republican lawmakers have argued that it’s time for Congress to move forward — signaling little interest in additional accountability from the president.

“As President @realDonaldTrump stated last night, it is time to heal and move on,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a tweet Friday. “It’s not going to happen,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) echoed in an interview with 41 Action News in Kansas City. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, has yet to take a position on the subject.

Given the current Senate breakdown, Democrats would need substantial GOP crossover to reach the 67-vote threshold required for conviction and removal: Republicans presently hold 51 seats since incoming Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have yet to be sworn in, and Democrats hold 48 including the two independents who caucus with them (former Sen. David Perdue’s seat is vacant since his term ended January 3).

Even if the president is not removed, however, impeaching him would enable House Democrats to send a powerful message about the consequences that Trump should face for fueling a riot at the Capitol. “I think the message it sends is that truth and honesty aren’t up for debate and we as Americans didn’t let a strongman stare us down,” the Democratic staffer told Vox.

Explainers

Dirty air can be deadly. Here’s how to protect yourself.

Future Perfect

The dubious rise of ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment, explained

Explainers

What the Taliban’s new government reveals about how they will rule

View all stories in Explainers