Donald J. Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, as a bipartisan House majority Wednesday voted to charge him with inciting insurrection by his supporters, who stormed the Capitol to block ratification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
It was a defining moment that will likely eclipse any policy accomplishments of Trump’s presidency — such as his tax cuts, deregulation of business and remaking of the federal judiciary — and illustrated how far he has fallen in the year since his last impeachment and trial, when all but one Republican in Congress stood by him.
The 232-197 House vote Wednesday came exactly one week after the Capitol suffered its most violent assault since the British burned it in the War of 1812.
One casualty of last week’s Capitol siege seemed to be Trump’s iron grip on the GOP. In the final vote, 10 Republicans, including No. 3 GOP leader Rep. Liz Cheney, joined 222 Democrats in approving one article of impeachment.
The debate shifts to the Senate, where a trial is not expected to be held until after Trump leaves office Jan. 20.
The emotional debate split lawmakers not so much over whether Trump was to blame for the violence, but over whether he should be impeached with just one week left to his presidency.
“The president of the United States incited this insurrection and this armed rebellion,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking in a Capitol still reeling from last week’s siege, now safeguarded by more military troops than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation we all love.”
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., voted against impeachment, but for the first time publicly blamed Trump for the insurrection.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” he said on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
In a major break with the president he has loyally served for four years, a furious Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is considering supporting Trump’s conviction when it comes to a trial in the Senate, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
In a memo to GOP colleagues Wednesday, McConnell did not deny widespread reports about his openness to conviction. “I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
If McConnell came down in favor of conviction, it could open a path for other Republicans to seize an opportunity to make a clean break with an increasingly unpopular and erratic president. Senior Republicans estimated that no more than 10 to 12 members would vote for impeachment.
The fast-moving scene of political tumult is an appropriate coda for a Trump career that has broken precedent, norms and laws at every turn. Even in the Senate, Republicans are beginning to envision what was unthinkable just days ago: that there might be enough votes to produce the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump, although most likely not until he is out of office.
If McConnell ultimately supported conviction, members of his leadership team would likely follow the leader’s vote. Other Republicans have already signaled openness, including Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to support conviction last year.
Timing is a wild card, and McConnell on Wednesday rejected a request by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York that they invoke emergency authorities to bring the Senate back into session before that. That makes it all but certain that the impeachment trial will not be complete before Biden becomes president.
Biden, worried that a full-time impeachment trial would distract from his administration’s ability to get Cabinet nominations confirmed and his legislative agenda started, has discussed with McConnell the idea of “bifurcating” the Senate’s business to accommodate both a trial and his agenda. Alan Frumin, former Senate parliamentarian, said he saw no obstacle in Senate rules to doing so.
Although there was some talk of the House postponing the delivery of the impeachment articles to the Senate to avoid slowing Biden’s start, Hoyer told reporters Wednesday that they would be transferred as soon as possible. House Democrats are steadfastly opposed to a delay, arguing that Trump poses a danger while he is in office.
To those who argued that there was not enough time to finish the process before Trump leaves office in the regular course of events, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said as House debate opened, “Is there little time left? Yes. But it is never too late to do the right thing.”
The day began with Trump uncharacteristically silent, his White House barely attempting to defend him against the charge that his speech to thousands of supporters rallying near the Capitol incited them to march on the Capitol to “fight” as the House and Senate were convening for the usually routine counting of Electoral College votes to ratify Biden’s victory.
There were no administration briefings or statements opposing the impeachment. Top advisers were absent from television networks. The president’s once-powerful Twitter account was still silenced, shut off days ago over concerns that he could use it to incite more violence. It was a sign of how isolated the president has become since the mob attack on the Capitol. He was on track to end his presidency just as his long-shot presidential campaign began in 2015: at odds with many members of his own party.
Mid afternoon, however, Trump released a statement as law enforcement officials warned of potential violence surrounding Biden’s inauguration next week.
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers David Lauter, Chris Megerian and Tracy Wilkinson contributed to this report from Washington.