Welcome back to the Impeachment Briefing. In an unprecedented vote, President Trump was impeached for the second time.
What happened today
The House impeached President Trump for inciting a violent insurrection against the United States government, a week after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol.
The vote was 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining Democratic colleagues to impeach — the most ever from a president’s own party. Just over a year ago, Republicans voted unanimously against impeaching Mr. Trump. See how each representative voted.
A Senate trial is likely to begin after the inauguration. The departing majority leader, Mitch McConnell, signaled that he would not begin Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.Here’s a guide to how the process works.
What lawmakers said
The House reconvened on Wednesday afternoon for an hourslong round of speeches from lawmakers. Here’s how some argued for or against impeachment.
“Donald Trump is a living, breathing impeachable offense.” — Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York.
“I will not use process as an excuse. There is no excuse for President Trump’s actions.” — Representative Dan Newhouse, Republican of Washington and one of the 10 in his party who voted to impeach Mr. Trump.
“They may have been hunting for Pence and Pelosi to stage their coup, but every one of us in this room right now could have died.” — Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland.
“Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that. And conservatives should be the first to say so.” — Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and House minority leader.
“He is capable of starting a civil war.” — Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California.
“If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a group of partisans, this Capitol would be empty.” — Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California.
“Today we begin the long road to restoration. America has been through a civil war, world wars, a Great Depression, pandemics, McCarthyism, and now a Trumpist, white nationalist insurrection. And yet our democracy endures.” — Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California.
“Nearly half the country supports our current president. This takes their voice away.” — Representative Jeff Van Drew, Republican of New Jersey.
“Democrats can say, ‘You know, there needs to be unrest in the streets,’ while there is unrest in the streets. But they’re going to impeach the president for saying peacefully and patriotically, ‘Make your voices heard.’” — Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio.
“We said if we didn’t remove him, he would do it again. Simply put, we told you so. Richmond out.” — Representative Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana.
What the second impeachment means
I asked my colleagues Julie Davis, who edits our congressional coverage, and Carl Hulse, a longtime congressional reporter, what stood out to them about this second presidential impeachment.
JULIE: It was really clear that there was a big divide among Republicans. A number of them got up and vigorously defended the president and savaged Democrats for doing this, but most did not actually try to excuse his behavior — they just argued that impeachment wasn’t the answer.
Even the party’s leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, essentially said the president had done wrong and deserved consequences for what happened. They sensed the political danger themselves for appearing to condone what Trump did. And yet most of them still did not feel that it was politically safe to vote to impeach him. Some of that might have to do with the fact that the president doesn’t have a Twitter feed anymore. It’s easier to speak out against him when you don’t expect a massive hail of presidential tweets coming at you.
What was also striking was that, by a factor of two, you had the largest margin of the president’s own party supporting his removal from office.
There was also so much symbolism today. You had all of this happening in a heavily fortified Capitol crawling with the National Guard, a week after the riot and a week before Biden is sworn in. The bunting was up and the brass had been polished for the inauguration. They’re spiffing up the building in all of the ways you do in anticipation of a new beginning. And yet here they were going about their business with these armed troops there to protect them against the loyal supporters of the departing president.
The current impeachment proceedings are testing the bounds of the process, raising questions never contemplated before. Here’s what we know.
- How does the impeachment process work? Members of the House consider whether to impeach the president — the equivalent of an indictment in a criminal case — and members of the Senate consider whether to remove him, holding a trial in which senators act as the jury. The test, as set by the Constitution, is whether the president has committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House vote required only a simple majority of lawmakers to agree that the president has, in fact, committed high crimes and misdemeanors; the Senate vote requires a two-thirds majority.
- Does impeaching Trump disqualify him from holding office again? Conviction in an impeachment trial does not automatically disqualify Mr. Trump from future public office. But if the Senate were to convict him, the Constitution allows a subsequent vote to bar an official from holding “any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” That vote would require only a simple majority of senators. There is no precedent, however, for disqualifying a president from future office, and the issue could end up before the Supreme Court.
- Can the Senate hold a trial after Biden becomes president? The Senate could hold a trial for Mr. Trump even after he has left office, though there is no precedent for it. Democrats who control the House can choose when to send their article of impeachment to the Senate, at which point that chamber would have to immediately move to begin the trial. But even if the House immediately transmitted the charge to the other side of the Capitol, an agreement between Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate would be needed to take it up before Jan. 19, a day before Mr. Biden is inaugurated. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said on Wednesday that he would not agree to such an agreement. Given that timetable, the trial probably will not start until after Mr. Biden is president.
CARL: The two parties are just so far apart. It just seems like an unbridgeable divide. There was so little common ground even after an event like the riot. It makes me wonder what could possibly ever cause the parties to find common ground again.
One dynamic that really stood out to me today was Republicans being unwilling to abandon Donald Trump, even after he incited an attack on the Capitol. In the House, there’s a big reluctance to let go of Trump. Their voters are Trump voters. House districts are different than the whole states that senators represent. And I don’t think that these House Republicans are necessarily frightened of Trump; I just think they agree with him.
That House Democrats were able to impeach the president in two days also has me wondering if impeachment is going to be a standard thing when one political party is unhappy with the president. There was certainly cause for them to act against the president here. But the precedent has lawmakers I talk to very alarmed.
The scene inside the Capitol
My colleague Emily Cochrane, who was present during last week’s riot, encountered a shocking scene when she arrived at work this morning: the U.S. Capitol, filled with troops. She told me about what she saw.
Since last Wednesday, they have slowly been intensifying security. Fencing has gone up around the Capitol. This morning, the closer you got to the building, the more it seemed as if things had changed overnight. It seemed as if the National Guard presence had doubled.
As I went through security on the House side of the Capitol — a floor below where lawmakers themselves began crossing through magnetometers last night — the first sight I had was of members of the National Guard asleep on the marble floors, some curled around the statues, others tucked behind them. It was surreal.
Someone was saying, “All right, guys — time to get up, time to get up.” Their rifles were laid on the ground and against the wall, some of them rested on top of their bodies as they slept. There was a line of two dozen National Guard members waiting to get breakfast at a self-serve station. In the Capitol Visitor Center, they were sprawled everywhere. This was as close to a militarized Capitol as I could have ever imagined.
Last Wednesday, I was in the House chamber, and heard the rioters trying to get in. I saw guns drawn. I knew there was a breach. But it has only really been in the aftermath, when you step back and see the photos from across the building, that it really hits home how much worse it could have been. It underscored how dangerous last Wednesday was and how dangerous things could still become. They are preparing for the possibility that something might happen again.
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