The House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump on January 13 for a second time, marking the first time in U.S. history that a President has been impeached more than once.
Ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection, granting the Democrats’ latest effort to remove him from office new bipartisan backing. In 2019, when Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, not a single House Republican voted for impeachment.
“He must go,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday. “He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
Wednesday’s vote was a historic rebuke of Trump just one week after he provoked a violent group of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol building and disrupt the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College votes. The siege left five people dead, including a member of the U.S. Capitol Police.
Now, at the end of an extraordinary term that tested the foundations of American democracy, Trump is not only the third president in history to be impeached, but will carry stigma of being the only Commander-in-Chief to be impeached twice.
The vote took place amid heavy security and after two hours of intense debate on the House floor, a week after some of the members present and their staff took shelter in the chamber during the attack. National Guard troops lined the halls and metal detectors had been set up for members wishing to enter the House floor.
Beyond the historic reprimand, the immediate consequences for Trump’s instigation of the attack on the Capitol remain unclear. His presidency ends in just one week, when Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s press secretary confirmed Wednesday that the Senate trial will likely occur during Biden’s presidency. Whenever it is held, it’s unlikely enough Republicans will vote to convict Trump and open the possibility of the separate penalty of barring him from ever holding public office again.
But in this case, the unprecedented condemnation itself may be the point. “If inciting a deadly insurrection isn’t enough to get a president impeached, then what is?” asked Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas.
House Democrats had to weigh competing interests in deciding whether or not to impeach Trump for a second time. Many were furious over Trump’s incitement and tepid response to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, while others were wary of overplaying their hand with constituents back home, or making things difficult for President-elect Biden by having a trial interfere with his legislative agenda. More than 200 Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, agreed to press ahead with impeachment.
House Democrats introduced just one article of impeachment against Trump: “incitement of insurrection.” The president “willfully made statements that encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—imminent lawless action at the Capitol,” the resolution reads. “Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”
In the end, Trump was impeached by a vote of 232 to 197. All of the House Democrats voted to impeach him, along with the 10 Republicans.
“The President took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington. “Last week there was a domestic threat at the door of the Capitol, and he did nothing to stop it.” Saying there was “no excuse” for Trump’s actions, Newhouse drew cheers from others inside the House chamber when he announced he would break with most of his party and vote to impeach Trump.
The highest ranking Republican to vote for impeachment was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the number three Republican in the House. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” she wrote in a statement about her support for impeachment on Tuesday. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” (Cheney did not make a speech on Wednesday.)
Many of Trump’s top Republican allies in the House railed against impeachment in their speeches. “This doesn’t unite the country,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, to whom Trump recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said on Wednesday. “There’s no way this helps the nation deal with the tragic and terrible events of last week that we all condemn.” Jordan claimed the impeachment was a symptom of “cancel culture” and said Democrats are trying to “cancel the president.”
Trump signaled his own fury the day before the vote, calling it “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
“This impeachment is causing tremendous anger… It’s really a terrible thing that they’re doing,” Trump said on Jan. 12. “For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country and it’s causing tremendous anger.”
The day before the impeachment vote, the House approved a resolution to call on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump from office through the 25th Amendment. Pence refused, saying in a letter to Pelosi that it would set a “terrible precedent” and asking Congress to “avoid actions that would further divide and inflame the passions of the moment.”
Trump also appealed for peace on Wednesday, releasing a statement in the midst of the speeches in the House. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” the statement read. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California and the lead impeachment manager against Trump in the impeachment and trial of 2019 and 2020, similarly looked towards the future in his brief remarks on Wednesday. Calling the riot at the Capitol “the most dangerous moment for our democracy in a century,” Schiff said: “Today we begin the long road to restoration.”
But that road must first lead through a trial in the Senate.