Democratic drive to impeach Trump speeds ahead

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    POTUS (REUTERS PHOTO)

    WASHINGTON. — Democrats will give President Donald Trump one last chance on Tuesday to leave office days before his term expires or face an unprecedented second impeachment over his supporters’ deadly Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol.

    The Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to vote as soon as Wednesday on formal charges of misconduct, known as articles of impeachment, unless Trump resigns or Vice President Mike Pence moves to oust him under a provision in the US Constitution.
    Democrats formally introduced one impeachment charge on Monday, accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection.”

    The FBI warned of armed protests being planned for Washington and all 50 US state capitals in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, a federal law enforcement source said on Monday.

    The House is due to vote on Tuesday on a resolution calling on Pence, a Republican, to invoke within a day the 25th Amendment, a never-before used law that allows a majority of the Cabinet to strip the president of power if he or she is unable to discharge the office’s duties.

    Pence advisers say he is opposed to the idea.

    The violence at the Capitol caused a serious rift between Trump and Pence, and the two men did not speak for days, although they did meet at the White House on Monday. A senior administration official said they discussed the riot.

    “The two had a good conversation, discussing the week ahead and reflecting on the last four years of the administration’s work and accomplishments,” the official added.

    If Trump has not stepped down and Pence has not taken action by Wednesday, Democratic leaders said they will bring his impeachment to the House floor, one week after the riot that forced lawmakers into hiding for hours and left behind five dead, including a police officer.

    Meanwhile, US Representative Tom Reed, a moderate Republican, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that he and House colleagues would introduce a censure resolution against Trump on Tuesday as an alternative to a “rushed, divisive” impeachment.

    But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, told Democratic members on a conference call on Monday that a censure “would be an abdication of our responsibility,” according to a source familiar with the call.

    Democratic lawmakers introduced one article of impeachment on Monday, accusing Trump of inciting a violent insurrection with a fiery speech exhorting thousands of followers to march to the famous domed building where Congress was working to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Nov. 3 election victory.

    “The president’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action,” said Pelosi.

    With only eight days left in Trump’s term, chances the Democratic drive will result in his removal appear remote.

    Impeachment triggers a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is in recess and not scheduled to return to Washington until Jan. 19, the day before Biden is to be sworn in.

    A Senate conviction requires a two-thirds vote, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to break with a president who has maintained an iron grip over his party for four years.

    Democrats will take control of the Senate once the two winners of last week’s runoff elections in Georgia are seated later this month, creating a 50-50 split and giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

    An impeachment trial could proceed even after Trump leaves office. Some Democrats have expressed concern that a trial could hamper Biden’s agenda, slowing down confirmation of his appointees and distracting from legislative priorities such as a new coronavirus relief package.

    Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, told Fox News on Monday he viewed the impeachment drive as “ill-advised” given how unlikely conviction appears to be.

    If an impeachment trial is held, Biden said on Monday he hoped the Senate would be able to conduct normal business at the same time, perhaps by splitting its hours in half.

    Trump, who initially praised his supporters even after the violence unfolded, delivered an uncharacteristically subdued video statement on Thursday denouncing the attack and vowing a smooth transition of power.

    He did not, however, concede defeat in the election.

    Threatened with more violence from Trump supporters, the FBI issued warnings for next weekend that run at least until Inauguration Day, the source said.

    In other steps to safeguard the US capital, the National Guard was authorized to send up to 15,000 troops to Washington, and tourists were barred from visiting the Washington Monument until Jan. 24.

    The chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Daniel Hokanson, told reporters he expected about 10,000 troops in Washington by Saturday to help provide security, logistics and communications.

    He said the number could rise to 15,000 if requested by local authorities.

    At least one lawmaker asked the Pentagon to do more.

    Senator Chris Murphy, who said he was sending a letter to the acting secretary of defense on Monday, said it was unclear if the National Guard would be sufficient to protect the nation’s capital and that active-duty troops may be needed also.

    “I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside,” Biden told reporters in Newark, Delaware, referring to the traditional setting for the swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol grounds. But he said it was critically important that people “who engaged in sedition and threatened people’s lives, defaced public property, caused great damage” be held accountable.

    Biden’s inaugural committee said on Monday the theme of the Jan. 20 ceremony would be “America United.” Trump, who has sought unsuccessfully to overturn the Nov. 3 election results with false claims of widespread fraud, said last week he would not attend the ceremony, a decision the president-elect supported.

    The Park Service said it would suspend tours of the Washington Monument, an obelisk honoring the country’s first president, due to safety concerns from threats to disrupt the inauguration.

    Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser called for the US Interior Department to cancel public-gathering permits through Jan. 24. “This inaugural planning period has to be very different than all the others,” she told reporters on Monday.

    In a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf made public on Sunday, Bowser called for a fresh approach to security after what she called last week’s “unprecedented terrorist attack.”

    Bowser asked Wolf to extend the National Special Security Event period from Monday through Jan. 24. The Secret Service heads security operations for events, including presidential inaugurations, considered to be nationally significant.

    Trump has not been seen in public since the day of the Capitol siege, although he plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday to visit a section of the US-Mexico border wall.

    Trump’s favorite means of communication was cut off last week when Twitter suspended his account permanently, saying it was concerned he could use it to incite further mayhem.

    The president’s actions have driven a wedge among Republicans, with a handful of lawmakers either calling for him to step down immediately or saying they will consider supporting impeachment.

    Impeachment appears likely to pass: the lawmakers who drafted the formal charge say at least 214 of the chamber’s 222 Democrats already support it.

    The Democratic-led House impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him in February 2020.

    Only two other US presidents have been impeached, and none twice.

    After last week’s chaos, authorities are hardening security ahead of Biden’s inauguration, which has already been dramatically scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    As many as 15,000 National Guard troops have been authorized to deploy to Washington, where tourists have been barred from visiting the Washington Monument because of threats of more violence from some Trump supporters.

    A federal law enforcement official told Reuters the FBI has warned that armed protests are planned for Washington and all 50 state capitals before Jan. 20. – Reuters