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With the backing of Texas Democrats, the U.S. House called on Vice President Mike Pence to remove President Donald Trump from office Tuesday, even though the vice president said he planned to take no such action.
The historic 223-205 vote marked the first time the U.S. House took such action and underscores the scale of anger at Trump for his role in last week’s deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol. A pro-Trump mob’s violent siege on the building while Congress was voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win left one police officer and four participants dead. Another police officer on duty during the siege later died by suicide.
The vote was largely the first legislative move at pushing Trump from the presidency, and House Democrats were already in the process of moving articles of impeachment that members will vote on Wednesday night.
The resolution demands that Pence invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president to convene the president’s cabinet and for a majority of that body to declare “the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It came about in the mid-1960s after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as theoretical questions intensified over how to handle an incapacitated chief executive.
The White House released a letter from Pence to Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating he would not invoke the amendment.
“I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with our constitution,” he wrote. “I urge you and every member of Congress to avoid actions that would further divide and inflame the passions of the moment. Work with us to lower the temperature and unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden as the next President of the United States.”
During last week’s insurrection after a rally Trump held in Washington, D.C., members of Congress in both chambers, their families, staffers and journalists ran for their lives and hid throughout the Capitol as it went into lockdown. Trump lied to supporters for months — and just before the siege — about American voters ousting him at the ballot box. After his rally, his backers overtook law enforcement and made it inside the Capitol, defacing irreplaceable federal property, breaking down doors, shattering windows, attacking journalists, smearing excrement around the premises and carrying plastic hand restraints in the U.S. Senate chamber.
House Democrats and at least a handful of Republicans are expected to easily pass Wednesday’s impeachment measure with a majority vote.
Prior to the vote, Pelosi named U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to the team of House impeachment managers. In that role, he will likely draw national attention when he serves as a de facto prosecutor in making the case to the U.S. Senate in a trial.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, the transfer of power has not been peaceful,” he said in a statement. “The president of the United States, in an unconscionable act of insurrection, incited a violent mob of his supporters to terrorize the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election.
“To protect the American people and as a consequence for these deadly actions, President Donald J. Trump must be removed from office immediately and prevented from ever occupying the presidency again.”
Despite last week’s stunning and violent upheaval, Trump maintained a loyal following among many House Republicans from Texas. Freshman U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, who was once the president’s physician, issued a forceful defense of Trump prior to the vote.
“I will not support any measure to remove President Trump from office,” he said. “It is time to focus on a peaceful transition of power and come together to solve the unprecedented challenges we face as a country.
“Inflaming the divisions of the American people is not the way to move forward from all our country has been through this past year,” he added. “As we look to heal, we should prioritize restoring communities devastated by lockdowns and America’s vaccine rollout over a divisive impeachment process.”
Jackson, a veteran, was on the House floor during the riot and helped hold back the mob.
Within the legislation, House members laid out in stark detail the physical destruction from last week, calling the event “a massive violent invasion of the United States Capitol and its complex by a dangerous, insurrectionary mob which smashed windows and used violent physical force and weapons to overpower and outmaneuver the United States Capitol Police and facilitated the illegal entry into the Capitol of hundreds, if not thousands, of unauthorized persons.”
That mob, the legislation stated, “threatened the safety and lives” of the highest-ranking people in the presidential succession line, including Pence, Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who is the president pro tempore of the Senate. The resolution notes that “rioters were recorded chanting ‘Hang Mike Pence’ and ‘Where’s Nancy’ when President Donald J. Trump tweeted to his supporters that ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country’ after the Capitol had been overrun and the Vice President was in hiding.”
The resolution also described how the attack disrupted the peaceful transition of power, “unleashed chaos and terror among Members and staffers and their families,” and left law enforcement officers injured. It also listed the five Americans who died in the attack, including four of the riot’s participants.
It blamed Trump’s baseless discrediting of the 2020 election results and his tweets and speeches for encouraging supporters to “charge up the rioters and insurrectionists to ‘march on the Capitol’ and ‘fight’ on Wednesday.”
Thirteen months ago, Trump held the line within the U.S. House during his first impeachment, when House Democrats attempted to remove him from office for pressuring Ukrainian leadership to damage the reputation of Hunter Biden, the son of now-President-elect Joe Biden.
In that impeachment, Texans fell along party lines. All House Republicans opposed that impeachment. That was not the case this time.
The highest-ranking female Republican in the House, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced early Tuesday evening she would support impeachment. Between her rank and her political pedigree — she is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — she is expected to offer political cover to other House Republicans who might fear political repercussions for supporting any measure to move Trump out of office.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, was the presiding officer over the vote.
The House is expected to vote on impeachment Wednesday evening.
While the U.S. House only needs a majority vote to impeach a president, actual removal from office would require a Senate trial and an eventual two-thirds vote of the chamber to convict the president.
An alternative punishment that has picked up some steam within the House GOP conference is a censure. This measure, which only entails a majority vote, is a formal condemnation of a public official.
Some House Democrats have proposed another censure — against U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Tyler Republican. Democrats were already enraged heading into the Electoral College vote counting, as Gohmert said that after dozens of judicial setbacks over attempts to overturn the election, there were no options left but “you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and [Black Lives Matter].”