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Politics

House Votes To Impeach Trump, But Senate Trial Before Jan. 20 Unlikely

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Liam James Doyle
/
NPR

Updated at 4:39 p.m. ET

The House of Representatives has impeached President Trump for the second time in 13 months — which makes him the only president to receive the rebuke twice.

During the last House vote, in December 2019, all Republicans opposed the move, arguing that the effort was politically driven. But on Wednesday, some GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in pointing the finger at the president for using rhetoric that helped spark a violent insurrection at the Capitol a week ago that left at least five dead.

Watch the House proceedings live. (Jump to an explanation of the process.)

The next step in the process is transmitting the article of impeachment to the Senate, then preparation for a Senate trial. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not consent to bringing the Senate back earlier than Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden's inauguration.

That tight timeline makes in nearly impossible for the Senate to convict and remove Trump from office before a new president is sworn in. Regardless, a Senate trial is expected.

The impeachment resolution on the House floor Wednesday, which passed 232-197, consisted of an article citing "incitement of insurrection."

The resolution states: "President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."

The House Judiciary Committee released a report Tuesday evening that lays out the events of the stunning siege at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the argument that the president posed an "imminent threat" and that "his continued presence in office is a clear and present danger to the United States."

It concluded: "The facts establish that he is unfit to remain in office a single day longer, and warrant the immediate impeachment of President Trump."

According to the planned schedule, the House is expected to approve the resolution in the afternoon. Almost every member of the House Democratic caucus has co-sponsored the resolution.

Trump on Tuesday criticized the effort to impeach him for a second time, defending the speech he made last week to his supporters in which he urged them to go to the Capitol where Congress was certifying that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. A violent mob then stormed the building, forcing Vice President Pence, lawmakers and staff to seek shelter.

The president, pressed by reporters traveling with him on a trip to Alamo, Texas, what his role and responsibility was for the violence, insisted he was not to blame.

"They've analyzed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody to the T thought it was totally appropriate," Trump said. But his speech has been condemned widely, including by Republicans, for setting off the riot.

The Process

Rule debate and vote-setting parameters: The House convened at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday. After some housekeeping, lawmakers began debating the rule that establishes that there will be two hours of debate the impeachment resolution. The House then voted on that rule and began debate on the resolution itself.

Debate on article of impeachment: For the debate on the resolution, two hours were divided equally between Republicans and Democrats. A lawmaker from each party manages debate, calling on members to speak and designating a set amount for each speech. The searing stories from some lawmakers who feared for their lives during last week's insurrection could make for an emotional day.

Republican split: Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House GOP leader, announced Tuesday she would vote yes, and her public break with the president — which came with a scathing statement blaming him directly for the riot — could give cover to those considering backing the resolution.

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney said.

Last week, a majority of the House GOP caucus backed up the president and voted for objections to two states' electoral results — just hours after the attack. But as the details emerge about how pro-Trump extremists arrested in recent days cited the president as inspiring their actions, the number of Republicans willing to rebuke him is expected to grow. So far the number announcing they will vote yes is in the single digits.

Vote amid pandemic and new security and rules: After last week's attack, the top security official in the House is now requiring all lawmakers and staff to be screened before they enter the House chamber. Magnetometers are set up at the main entrances, and some GOP members complained about them or walked around them onto the floor Tuesday evening, disregarding the new security measures.

Members were reminded that House guidelines require any members with licensed firearms are restricted to keeping them in their offices. New fines were instituted for those who decline to wear masks.

Votes, which typically last 15 minutes, are now extended because social distancing guidelines require lawmakers to stagger voting in groups to cut down on too many people congregating on the floor.

Senate trial timing: It's unclear how quickly Pelosi will transmit the impeachment resolution to the Senate. On Wednesday, outgoing Majority Leader McConnell's spokesperson confirmed that McConnell would not consent to reconvening the Senate early for a trial — a possibility that incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been exploring. Without agreement between McConnell and Schumer, the expected impeachment trial will almost certainly begin after Trump leaves office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced a group of nine Democrats who will serve as impeachment managers during the Senate trial: Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland will be lead manager; he worked as a constitutional professor before running for Congress. The other eight have legal backgrounds — Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Eric Swalwell of California, Ted Lieu of California, Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado and Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania and Del. Stacey Plaskett from the Virgin Islands.

It's unclear who will lead the debate for the Republicans since the leadership is split on impeachment. But strong Trump allies like Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan; Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs; and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon follower, were among those defending the president's actions during Tuesday's debate on the resolution on the 25th Amendment.

Biden allies have openly worried that starting out his term with an impeachment trial would hamper the new administration from getting its early priorities through like Congress, like another coronavirus relief package. For his part, Biden said he is consulting with senators and the parliamentarian about setting up a schedule that would devote half of the day to the impeachment trial and half to confirming his Cabinet nominees and considering legislation.

Once the elections of the two Democrats who won the Jan. 5 runoff contests are certified and they are sworn in, Democrats will gain control of the chamber, as the Senate will be evenly split 50-50, with the incoming vice president, Kamala Harris, breaking the tie to give her party the majority. Leaders will have to draft an impeachment resolution to set the rules for how a trial would work.

NPR White House editor Roberta Rampton contributed to this story

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