US Capitol police officers stand guard on Saturday, January 9 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/GRAEME SLOAN
US Capitol police officers stand guard on Saturday, January 9 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/GRAEME SLOAN

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers to be “prepared to return to Washington” next week, suggesting she is considering impeachment or another formal response to President Donald Trump’s encouragement of supporters who attacked the Capitol.

In a letter to fellow Democrats, Pelosi stopped short of saying whether she intended to move forward with impeachment or another process aimed at removing Trump from office before his term expires on January 20, yet she insisted that he be held responsible in some fashion.

“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” she said in the letter released late Saturday. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the president.”

Pelosi has called on Trump to resign over Wednesday’s violent storming of the Capitol and raised the prospect of impeachment unless he leaves office immediately. Five people died in the attack, including a police officer, after Trump supporters broke through security barriers and rampaged through the building, forcing lawmakers to evacuate while they were counting Electoral College votes.

Yet the House speaker is moving cautiously even as she faces pressure from angry Democrats to impeach Trump for a second time. President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear he wants the party to focus on his agenda and fighting the coronavirus rather that pursuing another impeachment.

Pelosi said in her letter that she’ll continue to meet with lawmakers and Constitutional experts, but added, “I urge you to be prepared to return to Washington this week.” On Friday, she said that she had told the Rules Committee to be ready to move forward with an impeachment case, but stopped short of saying it would be brought for a vote.

For Democratic leaders there’s little risk in pressuring Trump’s cabinet and vice-president Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the president incapable of governing. But impeachment would put the spotlight on Trump instead of on preparing for Biden’s incoming administration. It could also mean a Senate impeachment trial during the first days of Biden’s presidency, forcing the chamber to set aside other business, including confirming a new cabinet

Biden, when asked Friday about impeaching Trump, said that was a judgment for Congress to make. But he also appeared to suggest tapping the brakes on such a politically fraught move when there’s only a dozen days until his inauguration.

“It’s important we get on with the business getting him out of office. The quickest way that that will happen is us being sworn in on the 20th,” Biden said at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. “I am focused now on us taking control as president and vice-president on the 20th, and to get our agenda moving as quickly as we can.”

Article of Impeachment

A group of House Democrats plans to unveil on Monday an Article of Impeachment that had 180 co-sponsors by Saturday afternoon, according to Representative Ted Lieu of California. Democrats hold 222 seats in the House.

“We will introduce the Article of Impeachment this Monday during the House’s pro forma session,” Lieu said on Twitter.

The text of the proposed impeachment resolution includes a single article accusing Trump of “Incitement of Insurrection” and says he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanours by “wilfully inciting violence against the government of the United States” in connection with the storming of the Capitol.

“We can do this by way of privileged resolution, when we’re meeting in pro forma on Monday, we can introduce it. Then, the leadership will decide whether or not we will take it up and whether they will call us back into session,” Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat and one of the resolution’s sponsors, said on CNN.

Any attempt to impeach Trump would be running up against the calendar as well as against divisions among Republicans over how to contain the president during his final days in office. The House would have just days to act before Biden’s inauguration, and it’s not clear that the Senate could move ahead with a trial within a week. Convicting Trump would require support from a significant number of GOP senators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stayed mum on any next steps regarding Trump, sent a memo to GOP senators late Friday outlining the timetable for any impeachment trial. It said that the Senate is in recess and it would require unanimous consent in the chamber to act on any impeachment trial before Jan. 19. A trial would not begin until Trump’s term expired and then would require the Senate to remain in session daily until a verdict is rendered.

Bloomberg

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