US House convenes to impeach Donald Trump for his role in Capitol assault
By David Morgan and Richard Cowan
Washington - A week after President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the US Capitol, the US House of Representatives gathered on Wednesday to impeach the president for his role in an assault on American democracy that stunned the nation and left five dead.
At least five Republicans have said they would join Democrats to impeach Trump for the second time, just seven days before he is due to leave office and President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20.
A vote of the House majority to impeach would trigger a trial in the still Republican-controlled Senate, although it was unclear whether such a trial would take place in time to expel Trump from the White House.
Washington is on high alert after the riot and with a week to go in Trump's term. Thousands of National Guard troops were planned to be on hand and some members in fatigues, with weapons at hand, could be seen sleeping inside the Capitol building on Wednesday ahead of the session.
The House convened just after 9 a.m. (1400 GMT) in the same chamber where lawmakers hid under chairs last Wednesday as angry rioters clashed with police in the halls of the Capitol.
Democrats moved forward on an impeachment vote after Vice President Mike Pence rejected an effort to persuade him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution to remove Trump.
"I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution," Pence said in a letter Tuesday evening to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Despite the letter, the House passed a resolution late Tuesday formally calling on Pence to act. The final vote was 223-205 in favour.
As the House prepared for the impeachment vote, there were signs Trump's once-dominant hold on the Republican Party was beginning to ebb.
At least five House Republicans, including Liz Cheney, a member of her party's leadership team, said they would vote for his second impeachment - a prospect no president before Trump has faced.
"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a statement.
Trump "summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack" on the Capitol, she said.
Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler, John Katko, Adam Kinzinger and Fred Upton also said they supported impeachment.
In a break from standard procedure, Republican leaders in the House have refrained from urging their members to vote against impeaching Trump, saying it was a matter of individual conscience.
The New York Times reported that the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, was said to be pleased about the impeachment push, another sign Trump's party is looking to move on from him after the attack on Congress.
In his first public appearance since last Wednesday's riot, Trump showed no contrition on Tuesday for his speech last week in which he called on his supporters to protest Biden's victory by marching on the Capitol.
"What I said was totally appropriate," Trump told reporters.
At a meeting to set the rules for Wednesday's impeachment vote, Democratic Representative David Cicilline, who helped craft the impeachment measure, said the impeachment drive had the support of 217 lawmakers - enough to impeach Trump.
House Republicans who opposed the impeachment drive argued Democrats were going too far, as Trump was on the verge of leaving office.
"This is scary where this goes, because this is about more than about impeaching the president of the United States. This is about cancelling the president and cancelling all the people you guys disagree with," said Republican Representative Jim Jordan, one of Trump's staunchest defenders when the president was impeached in 2019 after encouraging the government of Ukraine to dig up political dirt on Biden.
Pelosi on Tuesday named nine impeachment managers who would present the House's case during a Senate trial. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, said Democrats intended to send impeachment charges, once approved, to the Senate "as soon as possible."
It remained unclear how swiftly such a trial would take place. McConnell has said no trial could begin until the chamber returns from its recess on January 19.
But Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is set to become the majority leader after two Democrats from Georgia are seated and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in later this month, told reporters the Senate could be recalled to handle the matter.
A two-thirds majority of the Senate is needed to convict Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to vote for conviction.
Democrats could also use an impeachment trial to push through a vote blocking Trump from running for office again.
Only a simple Senate majority is needed to disqualify Trump from future office, but there is disagreement among legal experts as to whether an impeachment conviction is needed before a disqualification vote.
A different part of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, also provides a procedure for disqualifying Trump from future office with a simple majority of both chambers.