WASHINGTON – The expected House vote Wednesday on whether to again impeach President Donald Trump will stress major fractures within the Republican Party over supporting or defending him in the aftermath of a riot at the Capitol one week ago that left five dead.
All House Republicans supported Trump in December 2019, when House Democrats impeached him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his dealings with Ukraine.
But the third most senior Republican in the House – Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming – said Tuesday she will vote to impeach Trump, a sign that at least a few in the GOP could join her in punishing the president. At least two other lawmakers announced Tuesday they would vote to impeach Trump.
“Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough,” Cheney said. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., welcomed the support.
“Good for her to be honoring the oath of office,” Pelosi said.
Cheney’s decision means Republican are not as united now as Democrats, who say Trump is a danger to the country, seek to remove him from office days before his term ends. The riot, which many lawmakers blame in part on Trump’s insistence that he won the election, sparked enough outrage and opposition to Trump that some Republicans could vote to impeach him for a second time.
Republican leaders haven’t told members to vote against the article of impeachment, according to a House Republican leadership aide speaking on condition of anonymity. The position represents a stark change from 2019, when leaders urged lawmakers to support the president and promoted their unity.
“The big difference is their lives were threatened,” John J. Pitney Jr., a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College, told USA TODAY. “Ukraine was literally and metaphorically distant. People could forget about Ukraine. If you were in the Capitol last week, you can’t forget about the insurrection.”
A vote on impeaching Trump is expected to take place late Wednesday – and pass – in the Democrat-controlled House. The one article being considered charges the president with “incitement of insurrection,” for what Democrats say was his direct role in fomenting violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The rampage left one police officer dead, a female rioter fatally shot and three other assailants dead.
Once it passes, Pelosi would then decide when to take it to the Senate, where at least 67 of the 100 members would have to support conviction.
A vote to convict, already a long shot, almost certainly won’t happen until after Trump leaves office Jan. 20, but the Senate also could vote to disqualify Trump from holding federal elective office again.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has told associates that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing it will make it easier to purge him from the party, The New York Times reported Tuesday, according to people familiar with his thinking.
During a conference call Monday with House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., told lawmakers not to attack other Republicans who voted for impeachment because it could put their lives at risk, according to a source familiar with the call but not authorized to speak on the record. Members have received threats after their names have been said publicly by others, the source added.
But several members bristled at Cheney’s position. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., opposed censure or any other punishment for Trump. He said Cheney shouldn’t represent the conference any more.
“She should resign her position as conference chair,” Biggs said. “This is crap, right here.”
Support for impeachment is expected to be much smaller than for GOP objections to the Electoral College vote count last week, with perhaps a dozen Republicans joining Democrats. In 1998, five Democrats joined Republicans on three articles to impeach President Bill Clinton, who, like Trump in 2019, was acquitted in the Senate.
Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., will vote to impeach Trump as well, according to a statement he issued Tuesday.
“To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said in a statement. “I will vote to impeach this president.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted support for removing Trump from office under the 25th Amendment and said Tuesday he would vote for impeachment.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the President of the United States broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection,” Kinzinger said in a statement.
Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., told CNN he is “strongly considering” voting to impeach Trump because the president is “no longer qualified to hold that office.”
Others haven’t spelled out their positions, even as they harshly criticize Trump.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, tweeted after the riots that his anger continues to grow over the desecration of the Capitol and that the president doesn’t have his support. “What happened was an act of domestic terrorism inspired and encouraged by our President,” he said.
Ally Riding, a spokeswoman for the Utah Republican, said he has yet to make a decision on impeachment.
“He feels like it’s a rushed process and he wishes that (they) would take time and call witness and have hearings and do so in a way that everyone can come away with the same conclusion as opposed to the last impeachment,” she told USA TODAY.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., tweeted that Trump was responsible for the riot.
“The President of the United States has been lying to his supporters with false information and false expectations,” wrote Fitzpatrick, who also is considering a resolution to censure the president. “He lit the flame of incitement and owns responsibility for this.”
Many in GOP oppose impeachment
While some Republicans slam the president, others in the GOP are standing by Trump and plan to oppose impeachment, saying impeachment could further divide the nation.
McCarthy suggested other steps instead, including a resolution of censure, creation of a commission to investigate the riot, and reforming the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said in a New York Times column that options include censure, criminal proceedings and actions under the 14th Amendment after a thorough investigation into the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol.
“We cannot rush to judgment simply because we want retribution or, worse, because we want to achieve a particular political outcome,” Reed said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that efforts to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment or through impeachment during the final days of his term will do nothing to unify the country.
“These actions will only continue to divide the nation,” Jordan said.
One alternative being discussed is a public rebuke of Trump. A group of Republicans led by Fitzpatrick is circulating a resolution that censures Trump because “he acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”
Polling: Trump support slipping
Pitney suggests Trump’s plummeting approval rating could open up the door for Republicans to oppose him.
An average of public polls at RealClearPolitics.com found Trump’s approval rating of 41.6% dropped 14 points from Dec. 30 to Jan. 10.
“His approval rating was never great, and it’s even lower now,” Pitney said. “Some Republicans may figure they finally have some space to stand up to him.”
But Trump is expected to wield considerable influence after he leaves office, despite his removal from Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites.
“I think it is a challenge for many of them, at least what we’ve seen so far,” Karen Hult, a political science professor at Virginia Tech, told USA TODAY. “They agree with many observers that this simply doesn’t make sense to do impeachment this late in the president’s term, especially when at the same time, it’s very unlikely the Senate would reach a two-thirds vote to convict.”
The Republican Party from national to local district levels remains a party of Trump, Hult said. Lawmakers might feel that their constituents elected them in November to support Trump and that they could face opposition in defending their seats if they oppose him, she said.
“More importantly, perhaps for some of them, to vote in favor of the impeachment resolution would not be responsive to many of whom they see in their constituencies,” Hult said. “Many of these people may be concerned about being primaried in the next election.”
Senate GOP faces same dynamics
A Senate with 50 Republicans and 50 lawmakers who caucus with Democrats is unlikely to convict Trump with the required two-thirds majority. One argument for pursuing impeachment is that the Senate could bar Trump from holding future office if he is convicted.
But the divide remains among Republicans. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have called on Trump to resign. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said he will consider impeachment if the House approves a charge.
“One argument is: If they let him get away with this, that sends a signal to future presidents they can do anything they want in the final weeks of their administration,” Pitney said.
Trump said Tuesday that impeachment talk is causing tremendous anger, but he wants “no violence.”
“This impeachment is causing tremendous anger. It’s really a terrible thing that they’re doing,” Trump told reporters Tuesday as he traveled to Alamo, Texas. “For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country and it’s causing tremendous anger. I want no violence.”
The timing for a Senate trial is uncertain. McConnell said the trial couldn’t be held before Trump’s term ends Jan. 20.
But there is precedent for holding a trial after an official leaves office. Pelosi could delay sending the article of impeachment to the Senate to avoid a distraction during the start of President-elect Joe Biden’s term.
Pelosi told reporters early Tuesday that she hasn’t decided when to send the article to the Senate.
“That is not something I will be discussing right now as you can imagine,” Pelosi said. “Take it one step at a time.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu