House Democrats are furious at President Donald Trump and are quickly building momentum to move on impeachment in the next several days — as soon as the middle of next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House Democratic caucus on a call Friday that she prefers Trump resigning or Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power. But she made clear that if that does not happen, there is more backing within the House Democratic caucus for impeaching Trump now than there was in 2019 when Trump was first impeached, according to multiple sources on the call.
“The President chose to be an insurrectionist,” one source said. “How we go forward is a subject for this caucus.”
Pelosi began the call solemn and emotional about the events that have transpired over the last 72 hours. She did not give a sense of timing or details on potential articles of impeachment, but she made clear the House has the power to impeach even with less than two weeks left in Trump’s term.
As Pelosi and her leadership team ran through their options Thursday night and the overwhelming sentiment was impeachment was the way forward, according to multiple sources. While there were some dissenters concerned that the move could be perceived as an overreach and turn off Trump supporters in their districts, the view among most top Democrats — including Pelosi — is that Trump should be held accountable for his actions.
Pelosi to speak with Biden
In a letter Friday, Pelosi told lawmakers that if Trump is not removed through the 25th Amendment, the House will “proceed with our action.”
One looming question is whether President-elect Joe Biden supports the House’s impeachment of Trump, as he’s pledged to try to unify the country when he takes office later this month. Impeachment could also force the Senate to consider the impeachment articles in a trial at the same time Biden was being sworn in and would need the Senate to confirm his Cabinet.
Pelosi told her caucus she was planning to speak with Biden on Friday afternoon, according to two sources on the call.
Some caution was expressed on the call about moving so quickly with an impeachment. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led the impeachment probe in 2019, made clear to his caucus the realities of moving ahead with impeachment now and the potential pitfalls. His concern: the precedent of fast-tracking an impeachment and the perception that House Democrats were attempting to protect Biden by trying to prevent Trump from running again, per multiple sources on call.
Schiff didn’t register his opposition to impeachment now, but urged his caucus to be aware of what’s possible and what’s not possible with impeaching Trump. He wanted, according to multiple sources, to ensure they keep their eyes wide open about going down this path.
However, Schiff also released a statement Friday supporting Trump’s removal from office.
“Every day that he remains in office, he is a danger to the Republic, and he should leave office immediately, through resignation, the 25th Amendment or impeachment,” Schiff said in the statement.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cautioned Democrats against moving forward with impeachment, and said he planned to speak to Biden about the matter on Friday.
“Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more,” the California Republican said in a statement. “I have reached out to President-elect Biden today and plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature and unite the country to solve America’s challenges.”
A different process from the previous impeachment
The process being proposed would not be anything like 2019. This would be fast: no investigations and no weeks-long hearings. The most likely scenario is that a member brings a privileged resolution to the House floor and offers it during session.
This requires Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, to bring members back, which folks expect to be announced sometime after the 12 p.m. ET caucus call. Once they do, it kicks off the process for a vote in a matter of days. A simple majority is enough to impeach the President. If they do this, it would make Trump the first President to be impeached twice.
That would not mean he would be removed from office, which would require the Senate to vote to do so.
House Judiciary Committee aides are consulting with the authors of one of the Democratic impeachment resolutions — Reps. David Cicilline, Jamie Raskin and Ted Lieu — in order to prepare for moving quickly to a potential impeachment vote on the House floor next week, according to three sources.
The aides are helping to edit and fine-tune the impeachment resolution, the sources said, which includes an article of impeachment for abuse of power, charging that Trump incited the insurrection at the Capitol. The impeachment resolution introduced Thursday also includes Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, but some moderate members are urging that impeachment should be kept as straightforward as possible in order to keep focus on Wednesday’s events.
On the call, Raskin made a presentation to the caucus about what impeachment would look like.
The draft impeachment resolution has now includes 131 co-sponsors, including Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, a further sign of growing momentum. Nadler said Thursday he supported bypassing his committee to move an impeachment resolution straight to the floor.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 in House leadership, told reporters on a call Friday he believes the House should impeach Trump. “He’s always wanting to do stuff that never been done before, there’s never going to present impeached twice before,” Clyburn said. “So let’s impeach him, give him what he wants.”
Pelosi spoke to Joint Chiefs chairman about nuclear codes
In her letter to lawmakers Friday, Pelosi raised what she saw as a potential danger with Trump, saying she had spoken with Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, about Trump and the nuclear codes.
“This morning, I spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike,” Pelosi wrote. “The situation of this unhinged President could not be more dangerous, and we must do everything that we can to protect the American people from his unbalanced assault on our country and our democracy.”
After speaking with Milley, Pelosi told her caucus that she has gotten assurances there are safeguards in place in the event Trump wants to launch a nuclear weapon, according to sources on the call.
A spokesman for Milley said Friday that the Joint Chiefs chairman had answered Pelosi’s questions “regarding the process of nuclear command authority.”
Whatever the Democrats do, things are moving quickly. Members weren’t in this place two days ago. The events of Wednesday, the images that have played across television screens, the accounts of what happened throughout the Capitol complex and the President’s approach to all of it before and after have all culminated in members feeling like something has to happen now. Pelosi said it Thursday at her presser, members have been texting her nonstop “impeach, impeach.”
Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the assistant House Speaker, told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” on Friday that they could bring articles of impeachment to the floor as “early as mid-next week.” She later tweeted that Democrats were “actively working” to find the quickest timeline for a vote.
This isn’t just Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and liberals asking for impeachment. There were notable comments Thursday from Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a moderate from Michigan who didn’t vote for Pelosi for speaker less than a week ago, who pushed for invoking the 25th Amendment. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia also released a statement pushing for the 25th Amendment, but then saying, “if the Vice President fails to act, it will become necessary for every member of Congress bound by our Constitutional oaths to take further action. If we refuse to respond to a U.S. President inciting an uprising against our democracy, we risk losing it forever.”
More than 60 Democrats, led by Reps. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, sent a letter to Democratic leaders Friday asking they reconvene and work to impeach Trump following Wednesday’s Capitol breach.
“We write to ask respectfully that the House reconvene immediately to reckon with the assault on our democracy that we experienced on January 6th,” the Democrats wrote. “We could take up the question of whether President Trump should be censured or impeached for encouraging a violent attack on the United States Congress, as well as Representative Raskin’s proposal that Congress appoint a body, as provided by the 25th Amendment, to determine whether the President is fit to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
House Republicans have so far rejected Democratic calls for impeachment. Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a district Biden won in 2020, told CNN that Trump on Thursday “committed to a peaceful transition of power” and noted that Biden’s inauguration is fast approaching.
“All this talk of impeachment and the 25th Amendment only exacerbates our divide and throws gas on the fire,” said Bacon. “We need less hyper-partisanship at the moment and stop efforts that will only divide the people of America even more.”
What would happen in the Senate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not spoken on this. But given that the House would likely pass this with just days left in Trump’s Presidency, it’s likely McConnell would just run out the clock.
The GOP is frustrated, exasperated by Trump at this point. CNN reported that McCarthy had a yelling match Wednesday with Trump as rioters were overrunning the Capitol Building. But, McConnell likes to avoid intra-party fights and forcing members to take a vote on impeachment when there are only days left of Trump’s presidency wouldn’t be a good way to keep his members united.
Sen. Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican who was an early critic of Trump’s election fraud rhetoric, told CBS Morning News he’d consider any articles of impeachment from the House.
“The House, if they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move because, as I’ve told you, I believe the President has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse said Friday.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.