WASHINGTON (Reuters): Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, as 10 of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurrection in last week’s violent rampage in the Capitol.
The vote in the Democratic-controlled House was 232-197 following the deadly assault on American democracy, although it appeared unlikely the swift impeachment would lead to Trump’s ouster before his four-year term ends and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on 20 January.
The Senate’s Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, rejected Democratic calls for a quick impeachment trial, saying there was no way to conclude it before Trump leaves office. But even if he has left the White House, a Senate conviction of Trump could lead to a vote on banning him from running for office again.
Biden said it was important that a Senate impeachment trial in the early days of his term not delay work on his legislative priorities, including Cabinet confirmations, and urged Senate leaders to find a way to do both at the same time.
The House passed a single article of impeachment – a formal charge – accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” focused on an incendiary speech he delivered a week earlier to thousands of supporters shortly before the pro-Trump mob rampaged through the Capitol.
The mob disrupted the formal certification of Biden’s victory over Trump in the 3 November election, sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead, including a police officer.
During his speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol, telling them to “stop the steal,” “show strength,” “fight much harder” and use “very different rules”.
In a video statement released after the House’s action on Wednesday, Trump did not mention the impeachment vote and took no responsibility for his remarks to supporters last week, but condemned the violence.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law and order,” Trump said.
With thousands of rifle-carrying National Guard troops inside and outside the Capitol, an emotional debate unfolded in the same House chamber where lawmakers had ducked under chairs and donned gas masks on 6 January as rioters clashed with police officers outside the doors.
“The President of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on the House floor before the vote. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
At a later ceremony, she signed the article of impeachment before it is sent to the Senate, saying she did it “sadly, with a heart broken over what this means to our country”.
No US president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Three – Trump in 2019, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 – previously were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro called Trump “the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office”. Congresswoman Maxine Waters accused Trump of wanting civil war and fellow Democrat Jim McGovern said the president “instigated an attempted coup”.
Some Republicans argued the impeachment drive was a rush to judgment that bypassed the customary deliberative process such as hearings and called on Democrats to abandon the effort for the sake of national unity and healing.
Under the US Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.