Monday, 25 Jan 2021

US House debates impeachment of President Trump

WASHINGTON – The House began its debate on the impeachment of President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Jan 13) afternoon, with Democrats accusing Mr Trump of inciting an insurrection by encouraging a mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol last week in an attack that left five dead.

The debate will last two hours, with the time equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, and will be followed by a vote.

“We know that the President of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in opening remarks.

“Since the presidential election in November, an election the President lost, he has repeatedly lied about the outcome, sowed self-serving doubt about democracy and unconstitutionally sought to influence state officials to repeal reality. And then came that day of fire we all experienced,” she added.

“Those insurrectionists… did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here, sent here by the President, with words such as a cry to ‘fight like hell’,” said Ms Pelosi, directly quoting Mr Trump’s speech at a rally hours ahead of the Capitol attack.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy unequivocally condemned the violent attack as an attempt to interfere with America’s constitutional law, and put blame on Mr Trump for it.

“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob, when he saw what was unfolding,” said Mr McCarthy.

But he disagreed with impeachment, saying that the public wanted neither inaction nor retribution – rather a “durable bipartisan justice”.

Impeaching the President in such a short time frame would be a mistake and too divisive, and Mr Mccarthy, who called instead for a censure resolution and a fact-finding mission.

Democrats sought to tie the attack to Mr Trump’s incendiary words, which they argued was not covered by the Constitution’s protection of the right to free speech, and said that his repeated false claims of election fraud had radicalised the mob. 

Democrats also argued that Mr Trump constituted “a clear and present danger” who had to be removed from power immediately instead of waiting for the seven remaining days in his term to play out.

In their counter-arguments, Republicans sought to distance the President from the Capitol attack and accused Democrats of stoking divisions instead of uniting the country.

“This doesn’t unite the country. There’s no way this helps the nation deal with the tragic and terrible events of last week that we all condemn,” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a vocal supporter of Mr Trump who was awarded the presidential medal of freedom last week.

“It’s always been about getting the President, no matter what. About cancelling the President and anyone that agrees with them,” he added.

Republicans also denied that Mr Trump was a clear and present danger, saying the Democrats had too hastily rushed into impeachment. 

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But most did not defend the President’s false claims of electoral fraud or his Wednesday speech, apart from California congressman Tom McClintock, who highlighted another line in which Mr Trump had urged supporters to demonstrate “peacefully and patriotically”.

Mr McCarthy also shot down false claims, some of which were made by his party colleagues, that the anti-facist movement had been involved in the attack.

“Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so,” he said.

The impeachment moves come after Vice-President Mike Pence rebuffed lawmakers’ formal call for him to remove Mr Trump from office. The vote is likely to pass, making it the second time Mr Trump will be impeached and the first time any US President has been impeached twice.

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House Democrats have enough numbers on their own to impeach, but will be joined by a handful of Republicans who have declared they will break with the President – a marked difference from his first impeachment in January 2019 when no Republican voted to impeach.

Six Republicans have so far declared that they will vote to impeach.

Lawmakers started debating Mr Trump’s impeachment at 9am EST (10pm Singapore time) and the House will vote on whether to impeach him at about 3pm EST (4am Singapore time), with the final result expected an hour later.

House majority whip James Clyburn, the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House, argued that the survival of America’s democracy depended on defeated candidates accepting their defeat.

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“This president’s refusal to participate in the peaceful transfer of power and his role in inciting last week’s violence pose an existential threat to our constitutional democracy. This threat must be extinguished immediately. This President must be impeached and convicted, and he must be prevented from ever attempting to seize power again,” said the South Carolina Democrat.

More violence is expected in state capitols and Washington DC, in the week ahead of Mr Biden’s inauguration. 

Mr Trump denounced violence in a statement read out in Congress by Mr Jordan, which said: “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. 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. Thank You.”

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