House Opens Impeachment Debate Against Trump for Sedition

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., right, joined at left by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., welcomes panel members Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump will likely be the first American president impeached twice, by two separate Congresses, after lawmakers began to debate the sedition allegations against him Wednesday morning. 

When the House gaveled in Wednesday to begin debate on the articles, Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern outlined last week’s events. 

As staff barricaded doors of offices, he noted, people sent text messages telling family members they loved them — they thought they were saying goodbye while under siege from Trump supporters who stormed the building.

“This was a well-organized attack on our country that was incited by Donald Trump,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Domestic terrorists broke into the United States Capitol that day, and it’s a miracle more people didn’t die.” 

Last week’s insurrectionist attack on what many congressional and Senate leadership called the “temple of Democracy” was only the second time in U.S. history the building had been stormed — British troops set the structure ablaze during the war of 1812. This time, as U.S. Capitol Police defended the space where lawmakers in both chambers prepared to debate the counting of certified electors, a mob of armed extremists overwhelmed the building. They called among other things for the death of perceived Trump enemies, beginning with those next in the line of succession: Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate President pro tempore Chuck Grassley.

The president hours before had encouraged his supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol and protest the tally that would inevitably confirm the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. 

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries has confirmed that investigations are being conducted into other speakers at the “Save America” rally, including Donald Trump Jr. and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who said there should be “trial by combat” if Republicans weren’t allowed to examine Dominion voting machines. 

Four civilians died in the resulting melee, and two U.S. Capitol Police officers died in the following days — Officer Brian D. Sicknick was beaten with a flag and later died of those injuries; Officer Howard Liebengood killed himself on Saturday. 

Michigan Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and a handful of other lawmakers responded last Thursday by drafting articles of impeachment against Trump. A week later, that number has swelled to more than 200 House members of Congress — including two Republican lawmakers: John Katko of New York and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. 

According to a New York Times report, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pleased with Democrats’ quick movement and believes the president committed impeachable offenses. Whether more will join him is yet unclear.

Tom Cole, the ranking Republican on the House’s Rules Committee, opined Wednesday that the limited time Trump has left in office means there is no reason to rush forward with removing him.

One week after Trump supporters sought to assassinate members of Congress, Cole said members were following a “flawed process.”

“We need to recognize that while the House may be done with this matter after today’s vote, it will not be done for the country, it will not be done for the Senate and it will not be done for the incoming Biden administration,” Cole said. 

Though few Republicans defended Trump’s involvement, lawmakers seemed to hold their party lines Wednesday as they began discussing the president’s actions.

Georgia Republican Buddy Carter called the siege “one of the saddest days” of his life, for example, but said it was Congress’s responsibility to “chart a path forward to subdue the growing animosity and subdue the growing animosity.” 

All these issues were debated as, throughout the halls of Congress, a garrison of National Guard troops — more soldiers deployed to Washington than deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan — awoke from a night spent on the floor.

Hundreds of National Guard troops hold inside the Capitol Visitor’s Center to reinforce security at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Giving her first speech on the House floor Wednesday, the freshman Republican Nancy Mace of South Carolina also complained about a rushed process but conceded that Trump needed to be held accountable for his contribution to the mob’s actions.

“I hold him accountable for the events that transpired, for the attack on our Capitol last Wednesday,” she said. “I also believe that we need to hold accountable every single person, even members of Congress if they contributed to the violence that transpired here.” 

Defending Trump, the newest House Republican to join the Rules Committee, Pennsylvania Congressman Guy Reschenthaler, defended Trump’s words on Jan. 6 and commitment to a peaceful transition of power. Reschenthalersaid Trump’s comments “would not even meet the definition of incitement under criminal statutes.” 

As many Republicans said during Trump’s first impeachment, Reschenthaler repeated that the House’s action would set a dangerous precedent for impeachment standards. 

But McGovern noted if the president were truly committed to a peaceful transition of power, he would not have weaponized a gathering of his supporters who “launched a violent attack against this Capitol where five people lost their lives and many more were injured.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer introduced articles of impeachment Monday, but debate on the measure was delayed by an objection from West Virginia Congressman Alex Mooney.

Simultaneously on Monday, Hoyer introduced a resolution by Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin to invoke the 25th Amendment; it passed late Tuesday night by a 223-205 vote. Before the final tally, Vice President Pence wrote to Speaker Pelosi that he wouldn’t be assembling the Cabinet for a vote to remove the president. Twitter and Facebook have booted Trump off their platforms since the insurrection, but the outgoing president defended his pre-mob speech Tuesday while visiting part of the border wall in Texas. 

Wednesday’s debate was organized the night prior by a House Rules Committee to include several separate panels of congressional leaders speaking in support of impeaching Trump. 

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon rebuffed some Republican arguments that Democrats were rushing to a “snap impeachment,” noting President Andrew Johnson was impeached in just three days.  

She said the evidence against Trump is as evident as it had been in that 1800s-era impeachment — Johnson sent a letter informing Congress he had dismissed the secretary of war, mailing evidence of presidential misconduct to lawmakers’ desks. Trump had done the same through his mob incitement, she said, sending a mob to Congress’ lap. 

Representative Al Green said Trump had weaponized hate, and that he was worried about Americans living in fear as a result of last Wednesday’s attack.

Green, who is Black, described an early memory of his Christmas morning joy cut short after he’d received a long-sought bicycle as a present. On his inaugural ride, he was shot with BB guns by young boys crouching in a wooded area nearby, because of his race.  

“Some of us have lived through some things that cause us to understand why we have to deal with hate,” Green said. “This is not something that I know vicariously, this is something that I know intimately.” 

The House will likely spend a portion of Wednesday debating Trump’s involvement in stoking a mob that lobbed racial slurs at U.S. Capitol Police officers and carried Rebel Battle flags throughout the building. It is unknown if action will immediately be taken on the articles in the Senate, with McConnell having the sole power to reconvene that body before Biden’s inauguration. 

California Democrat Ted Lieu, alongside Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, formally introduced an article of impeachment Monday for the “incitement of insurrection.”  

The article specifically moves to impeach the president for high crimes and misdemeanors, a contrast to articles for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power that the 116th Congress forwarded to the Senate in 2019.

Cicilline’s article outlines how Trump’s false claims that he had won the election “by a landslide” ignited a crowd gathered on the Lincoln Memorial.

“He also willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol,” the article states. “Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, … and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts.” 

The House first voted to kill a Republican amendment that would have created a bipartisan commission to study Wednesday’s attack. The final tally for that vote was 221–205. A final vote to send articles of impeachment to the Senate will occur later Wednesday afternoon. 

Pelosi chose impeachment managers — members of Congress who will argue their case against Trump before the Senate — Tuesday night. This group is made up of Cicilline, Lieu, and Representatives Jamie Raskin, Joaquin Castro, Eric Swalwell, Joe Neguse, Madeleine Dean, Stacey Plaskett and Diana DeGette.

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