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Impeachment, again: House votes to brand Donald Trump with a second scarlet letter

By The Canadian Press

Published 10:44 PST, Wed January 13, 2021

Last Updated: 2:47 PST, Wed January 13, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following last week's "day of fire," another historic reckoning arrived Wednesday for Donald Trump as members of the House of Representatives voted to impeach the U.S. president for the second time in just over a year.

Lawmakers, many of them emotionally scarred and still seething after surviving a Trump-spurred rampage on Capitol Hill, spent the bulk of the day debating a resolution accusing the president of inciting an insurrection.

In the end, Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached twice, this time by a margin of 232-197, with four abstentions. Ten Republicans — including Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking House GOP member — broke ranks. 

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland closed the debate with a searing rebuke of the president that urged members on the opposite side of the aisle to open their eyes to the perils Trump poses. 

"There can be no mistaking any longer the kind of man sitting in the Oval Office, or his intentions and capabilities," Hoyer said.

"Donald Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fearmongering and sedition. Last Wednesday on Jan. 6, the nation, the world watched it shatter to pieces."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose legendary battles with Trump made her a likely target for the mob, was no less equivocal when she opened debate earlier in the day.  

"He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love," Pelosi said. 

A conviction by the Senate, she said, would be "a constitutional remedy that will ensure that the republic will be safe from this man who was so resolutely determined to tear down the things that we hold dear and that hold us together."

She pilloried the president for his relentless and fictional claims of a stolen presidential election, sowing doubt about democracy and urging state officials to "repeal reality."

"And then," she said, "came that day of fire we all experienced."

Before becoming the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, Trump released a remarkable statement urging his would-be supporters, said to be mobilizing to protest en masse this weekend, to stand down. 

"In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO law-breaking and NO vandalism of any kind," the statement said. 

"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."

Throughout the afternoon, Republicans argued in vain against the impeachment resolution, most of them seeking to curry favour with their Trump-friendly constituents at home rather than convince their colleagues to change their votes. 

"It will only serve to further divide a nation that is calling out for healing," said Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House minority whip.

"In times like these, let us not reach out to our darkest demons, but instead — like Lincoln — seek the higher ground." 

Other Trump loyalists, including Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, California Rep. Tom McClintock and Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, made similar arguments as they denounced the Democratic effort and defended their president's record. 

"We should be focused on bringing the nation together," said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the president's staunchest House allies.

"Instead, Democrats are going to impeach the president for a second time, one week before he leaves office. Why? Politics, and the fact they want to cancel the president."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who used his time to pay tribute to the Capitol Police officers and others who put their lives on the line to protect lawmakers, said he would vote against impeachment. 

But he broke with Trump by saying the president "bears responsibility" for the riot, which he called "undemocratic, un-American and criminal," and urged him to embrace the fact that Joe Biden will be president next week. 

Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican, went farther, promising to vote to support impeachment, eliciting applause from the Democratic side of the House. 

Wednesday's debate took place in a Capitol precinct transformed into an armed fortress in the days since enraged Trump supporters, convinced by the president's lies of a grand conspiracy to deny him a second term, overpowered a meagre police presence and forced their way into the building.

Five people died in the mayhem, including Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was assaulted in the melee, and Ashli Babbitt, 35, an air force veteran who was shot by police as she tried to get to the House chamber.

Since then, the entire complex has been surrounded by a two-metre fence and concrete barriers and flooded by members of the National Guard, whose ranks in the U.S. capital could top 15,000 by the time Biden is inaugurated next week. 

Everyone trying to enter the Capitol Building must pass through metal detectors, including members of Congress seeking to access their respective legislative chambers. Throughout the day, soldiers patrolled the perimeter of the fence. 

Lawmakers arriving early for the debate were met with a striking spectacle: armed soldiers, riot gear at the ready, temporarily camped out on the floor of the visitors centre — the first military bivouac on Capitol Hill since Abraham Lincoln was president more than 150 years ago.

Cheney, the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, issued a seismic statement Tuesday supporting the Democratic effort that may have encouraged other GOP members to vote against Trump. 

"The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack," Cheney said. "There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the constitution."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected calls for an emergency trial, all but ensuring the Senate would not take up the matter until after Biden is inaugurated and power in the chamber has reverted to the Democrats. 

Conviction in the Senate, which would still require more than a dozen Republican votes, would bar Trump from ever seeking public office again, thwarting any plans he may have to run again in 2024. 

And in an eyebrow-raising statement delivered to his Republican colleagues, McConnell made clear he hasn't yet made up his mind whether he will vote to convict — a cue that might encourage others in the party to consider their options as well. 

– James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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