House lawmakers on Wednesday impeached President Trump for his role in last week’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, capping an extraordinary week of violence, apprehension and partisan brawling in Congress just as Washington cranks up security in preparation for Joe Biden’s inauguration, just a week away.
The vote was historic: It made Trump the first president in the country’s history to be impeached twice.
And unlike the first debate, this time the president’s Democratic critics had support across the aisle. At least 10 Republicans joined every voting Democrat to approve the single impeachment article, which accuses Trump of inciting violence against the same federal government he leads.
The vote was still taking place when this story was posted, but the vote total had cleared the 217 voted needed to impeach the president.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who oversaw both impeachment efforts, said Trump’s refusal to concede his election defeat — and his subsequent efforts to rally supporters to the Capitol to overturn the election results — amounted to sedition. The president, she said, gave Congress no choice.
“We know we experienced the insurrection that violated the sanctity of the people's Capitol,” Pelosi said in a floor speech before the vote. “And we know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country.
"He must go," she added. "He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."
The most prominent Republican to break with Trump was GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican leader and highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress, who said Trump “summoned the mob,” “lit the flame” of the attack and — despite pleas from his Hill allies — refused to call it off.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Cheney said in a statement.
Her terse, fiery remarks threw fuel on the civil war that’s now raging through the Grand Old Party, pitting Trump’s MAGA supporters against the GOP establishment. A pair of conservative Trump footsoldiers, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), immediately called on Cheney to resign from leadership and on Wednesday began organizing an effort to oust her from power.
But Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is remaining defiant.
“I'm not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” she said before the vote. “It's one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented — since the Civil War — constitutional crisis.”
The events of Jan. 6 were unprecedented by any gauge. After months of false claims that he had won the election, only to have it stolen by rampant fraud, Trump addressed thousands of supporters near the White House last Wednesday, urging them to march on the Capitol just as Congress — joined by Vice President Mike Pence — was voting to certify Biden’s victory.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump said.
Shortly afterwards, thousands of protestors arrived at the Capitol, where they quickly overwhelmed the Capitol Police, some of whom were maced and beaten with iron bars. The marauders marched through the sprawling building, smashing windows, ransacking member offices and attempting to storm onto the House and Senate floors while lawmakers, staff and reporters scrambled for cover.
Five people died during the riot, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was struck by a fire extinguisher, and a California woman who was fatally shot by another officer as she tried to storm the Speaker’s lobby just off of the House floor.
Trump, for his part, has denied any responsibility for the deadly violence, saying his speech was “totally appropriate.” He also has not expressed regret for his actions, though on Wednesday, as the impeachment debate continued, he issued a statement that called for their to be no violence or vandalism amid reports of new demonstrations at next week's inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The impeachment vote will lead to a trial in the Senate, though the timing and outcome in the upper chamber are unclear.
In a remarkable statement, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declared Wednesday that he had not determined how he would vote in the trial, saying he would listen to the legal arguments.
The first time Trump was impeached, there was clear opposition from Senate Republicans and only one GOP senator, Mitt Romney (Utah), voted in favor of one article of impeachment.
It seems likely more Republicans would vote to impeach Trump this time, though it will be after he leaves office and it is unclear whether there will be the 67 votes necessary to convict him.
If all Democrats vote to impeach, which is not a certainty in the Senate, 17 Republican votes would be needed to convict.
The long-term implications of both the Capitol siege and Trump’s second impeachment remain unclear.
Republicans opposing the impeachment effort in the House did not all defend Trump’s actions surrounding the Capitol assault; in fact, many condemned it. But they also warned that taking the drastic step of attempting to remove the president would only exacerbate the country’s already cavernous political divisions, inflaming the resentment of the president’s supporters — and perhaps leading to greater violence down the road.
Taking the floor just before the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a staunch Trump loyalist, conceded that Trump “bears responsibility” for Wednesday’s assault. But he quickly cautioned that impeachment “would further divide this nation” and “would further fan the flames of partisan division.”
“As history shows, unity is not an option, it’s a necessity,” he said.