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House Democrats Weigh Impeachment As They Urge Trump's Removal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the next steps with House Democrats on a conference call Friday. Many in her caucus are pushing to vote on impeaching President Trump next week.
J. Scott Applewhite
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the next steps with House Democrats on a conference call Friday. Many in her caucus are pushing to vote on impeaching President Trump next week.

Updated at 2:58 p.m. ET Saturday

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is warning that the House could vote on articles of impeachment against President Trump next week as Democrats fume about the stunning attack by a mob of pro-Trump extremists on the Capitol on Wednesday. Five people died, including a U.S. Capitol police officer, and offices were ransacked, including top leaders' suites, as lawmakers and the vice president were evacuated from the House and Senate chambers.

On Friday, a day after she and the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called on the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump, she sent a letter to House Democrats vowing, "If the President does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action."

The House was not scheduled to have all members return to Washington until the inauguration, but leaders could announce plans for votes next week. House Democrats huddled on a conference call Friday to chart out next steps and determine whether leaders would call members back to Washington for an impeachment vote next week. Some Democrats are publicly predicting one could happen as soon as midweek.

"The President chose to be an insurrectionist," Pelosi said, according to a source on the call who was not authorized to speak publicly.

After a lengthy call, Pelosi released a statement that signaled the vote next week was inevitable since there is no indication the president will resign. The speaker said if he doesn't remove himself from office she has instructed the Rules committee to be prepared to move an impeachment resolution or a bill setting up a commission to weigh in on whether the president could be removed under the 25th amendment.

"With great respect, our deliberations will continue," Pelosi said.

But House Democrats have already drafted articles of impeachment that will be filed at a pro forma session on Monday. A group of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee — Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and David Cicilline of Rhode Island — are circulating them, and Lieu tweeted Saturday that 180 co-sponsors have signed on. That represents more than half of the House Democratic caucus.

The resolution cites the president's call to Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when Trump urged him to "find" enough votes to overturn the election. It also cites Trump's language that Democrats say encouraged the insurrection at the Capitol. It says he made "false claims" about the election and "he also willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol. Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session's solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts."

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who briefed members on the call, said that failing the president's resignation or removal via the 25th amendment "Congress should act to begin impeachment proceedings as the only instrument wholly within our power to remove a president who has so manifestly and repeatedly violated the Constitution and put our nation at grave risk."

He proposed a narrow resolution focused on the president's role surrounding the attacks on the Capitol that he indicated could move swiftly and said the Senate could take it up "with equal expedition so that the President can be tried, and through conviction, the country can be protected from further harm." There is no indication that Senate Republicans would agree to change their schedule to take it up.

Separately, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has also circulated an impeachment resolution.

White House spokesman Judd Deere on Friday called the impeachment effort "politically motivated" and said it would "only serve to further divide our great country."

Pelosi and Schumer say they attempted to call Vice President Pence to urge him to convene the Cabinet and start the process to force the president out on Thursday but were kept on hold and never connected with him. The speaker said in a letter Friday morning they hope to hear from him "as soon as possible."

"Impeachment encourages conversation on the 25th Amendment. That's picked up a lot of steam," Pelosi told her members on the conference call.

President-elect Joe Biden, asked about impeachment, told reporters that "what the Congress decides to do is for them to decide."

Biden said he was slated to talk to Pelosi later. "I think it's important we get on with the business of getting him out of office," he said. "The quickest way that that will happen is us being sworn in on the 20th. What action happens before or after that is a judgment for the Congress to make, but that's what I am looking forward to: him leaving office."

The most vocal Democrats are insisting the vote should happen, even if to send a message and mark the president in the history books as being impeached twice.

The House of Representatives approved articles of impeachment last year related to Trump's efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials to conduct investigations that could help him in the 2020 election. The Senate acquitted him.

Even if the House did impeach the president next week, the Senate is out of session until Jan. 19, so it's unlikely there would be time to conduct a trial and vote while Trump is still in office.

Centrist Democrats agree the president needs to be removed in some form, potentially including impeachment, but have some concerns that the process could take away from the start of the Biden administration when members want to move forward and not be focused on Trump.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said on NPR's Here and Now the president should be removed using the 25th Amendment, and "I don't think there's time for impeachment."

Pelosi told her colleagues that she spoke to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the president "accessing the launch codes and ordering a strike."

"We would hope that there would be no fear of that, but we have to have – because he's unhinged. We're not talking about anything other than an unhinged president," the speaker said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urged lawmakers against taking up impeachment.

"Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more," McCarthy said in a written statement that mentioned he had reached out to Biden about trying to "lower the temperature and unite the country to solve America's challenges."

But Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski became the first GOP senator to call on the president to resign on Friday.

"I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage." Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News. Murkowski, who is up for reelection in 2022, also said she wasn't sure she would remain in the Republican party.

"If the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me," she said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.