House Democrats on Monday introduced an article of impeachment against Donald Trump for the second time, levelling an unprecedented charge against the US president of inciting an insurrection.
The move came amid growing concern over the risk of more unrest in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration as president on January 20 following last week’s assault on the US Capitol.
US media reported an FBI warning of potential violence and “armed protests” at 50 state capitols across the country while the White House issued an emergency declaration for Washington to facilitate coordination between federal and local authorities.
Democrats’ impeachment push is part of a last-ditch effort to force Mr Trump to leave the White House before the end of his term following the attack on Congress last week by a mob of his supporters.
The Democratic-controlled House on Monday attempted to pass a separate resolution urging Mike Pence, the vice-president, to convene the cabinet and activate the 25th amendment, which gives them the authority to strip the president of his powers over his role in last week’s siege.
The resolution, drafted by Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland, says the president “wilfully made statements that . . . encouraged . . . lawless action at the Capitol”. At least five people died in the clashes, including a Capitol police officer. A second officer died by suicide at the weekend.
Because Republican lawmakers opposed the text, it did not receive unanimous consent and will be debated and most likely passed by the House on Tuesday. A vote on impeachment could come on Wednesday.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said in a statement on Monday that the lower chamber of Congress would proceed with impeaching Mr Trump if Mr Pence did not respond to the resolution within 24 hours.
“As our next step, we will move forward with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor. The president’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action,” Ms Pelosi said.
Although Mr Trump is likely to be impeached a second time by the House, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict in order to remove him from office. While a handful of Republican senators have expressed outrage over the president’s actions, more than a dozen would need to sign on to oust Mr Trump.
The FBI bulletin reported by US media referred to information on a group calling for the “storming” of federal, state and local government buildings if Mr Trump is removed from office before inauguration day.
The US president’s Monday declaration of an “emergency” in Washington is an official move that enables government agencies to coordinate their responses to any crisis.
Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, also asked federal authorities to deny permits for public gatherings until after the inauguration.
Mr Raskin, David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California on Monday introduced the article of impeachment against Mr Trump. Their resolution, which was co-sponsored by another 211 House Democrats, charges Mr Trump with a single count: “incitement of insurrection”.
“We cannot allow this unprecedented provocation to go unanswered,” the three lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Everyone involved in this assault must be held accountable, beginning with the man most responsible for it — President Donald Trump.”
Ms Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, have repeatedly urged Mr Pence to invoke the US constitution’s 25th amendment if Mr Trump does not resign.
Despite reports that Mr Pence is enraged by Mr Trump’s lack of intervention in the riots — which interrupted the counting of electoral college votes to certify that Mr Biden will be the 46th US president — the vice-president has so far signalled no support for using the 25th amendment.
Mr Biden last week seemed lukewarm on invoking the 25th amendment or proceeding with impeachment, saying there was too little time and that he remained focused on his inauguration.
But the president-elect softened his stance on Monday, telling reporters he had talked with lawmakers about how the Senate could “bifurcate” impeachment and other legislative priorities if a trial were to take place in the coming weeks.
“Can we go half a day on dealing with the impeachment, and half a day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate, as well as moving on the [stimulus] package? That is my hope,” he said, in comments that were seen as a tacit endorsement of House Democrats’ efforts.
An ABC News-Ipsos poll published on Sunday showed more than half of Americans believe Mr Trump should be removed from office before his term ends.
But Mr Trump, who was banned from Twitter and a host of other social media platforms at the end of last week, has shown no sign of standing down. He is expected to make a trip to the US-Mexico border on Tuesday to tout his record on immigration.
Mr Trump was impeached at the end of 2019 on two charges — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — relating to his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president into digging up dirt on Mr Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. He was acquitted after a Senate trial. Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former presidential candidate, was the only Republican who voted to convict the president.
While Mr Trump is likely to be impeached a second time in the Democratic-controlled House, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict in order to remove him from office. A handful of Republican senators have expressed outrage over the president’s actions, more than a dozen would need to sign on to oust Mr Trump.