The House of Representatives on Wednesday impeached Donald Trump for inciting a violent insurrection against the government of the United States a week after he encouraged a mob of his supporters to storm the US Capitol, a historic condemnation that makes him the only American president to be charged twice with committing high crimes and misdemeanors.
After an emotional day-long debate in the chamber where lawmakers cowered last week as rioters vandalized the Capitol, nearly a dozen House Republicans joined Democrats to embrace the constitution’s gravest remedy after vowing to hold Trump to account before he leaves office next week.
The sole article of impeachment charges the defeated president with “inciting an insurrection” that led to what the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said would be immortalized as a “day of fire” on Capitol Hill.
The president, Pelosi said, represented a “clear and present danger to the nation we all love”.
The final count was 232 to 197, with 10 members of the president’s party supporting his unprecedented second impeachment, making it the most bipartisan impeachment vote in US history. Among them was Liz Cheney, the No 3 House Republican and daughter of Dick Cheney, George W Bush’s vice-president. Though she did not rise to speak on Wednesday, she issued a blistering statement announcing her decision, in which she said that there had “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States” than Trump’s conduct on 6 January.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement.
Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, attempted to carve a middle path for his caucus. He said Trump “bears responsibility” for Wednesday’s attack, while warning that impeachment would “further fan the flames of partisan division”. As an alternative, he proposed a censure.
The House was prepared to immediately transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate after Wednesday’s vote. In a statement, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said there was “simply no chance” of concluding a trial before Trump leaves office, ensuring that the affair would begin during the inaugural days of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Though consequences for Trump will not include premature removal from office, the Senate trial would not be entirely symbolic. Two-thirds of the 100-member body are required to convict a president, meaning 17 Republicans would have to join Democrats to render a guilty verdict.
If convicted, it would then require only a simple majority to disqualify him from ever again holding public office.
“Make no mistake,” said New York senator Chuck Schumer, who will become the majority leader when his party takes control of the chamber later this month, “there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate; there will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors; and if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
While it is currently considered unlikely that enough Senate Republicans would break with Trump, two have called on the president to resign, and the New York Times reported that McConnell believes the president had committed impeachable offenses.
McConnell’s souring on Trump is significant, because as Washington’s most powerful Republican his view could make it easier for others in his party to turn against the president.
In a letter to colleagues on Wednesday, McConnell said he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote, and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
The deadly assault a week ago came as the House and Senate were in session to certify Biden’s victory in November’s presidential election, a result Trump refused to accept. Five people died during the siege, including a police officer.
“We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the president of the United States,” said Jim McGovern, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts and the chair of the rules committee, opening Wednesday’s session.
All around as members argued the merits of impeaching a defeated president were reminders of the the destruction wrought by rioters – the first occupation of the US Capitol since British troops burned the building during the war of 1812.
The building lawmakers call the People’s House, poorly defended last Wednesday, had been turned into a fortress, protected by thousands of national guard troops and with metal detectors stationed outside the chamber doors. Some Republicans rebelled against the new safety protocols, evading the security check.
A remorseless Trump on Tuesday called his inflammatory language at a rally immediately before the mob marched on the Capitol “totally appropriate”. Efforts to hold him accountable were nothing more than a “continuation of the greatest witch-hunt in the history of politics”, he said.
On Wednesday, Trump issued an official statement via the White House that said: “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind.”
Few Republicans were willing to defend Trump’s incendiary behavior last week. But those who oppose impeachment objected to the rushed nature of the proceedings.
“I can think of no action the House can take that is more likely to further divide the American people,” said Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, who was among the more than 120 House Republicans who voted last week to reject the electoral votes of key swing states that Biden won, despite officials at every level calling November’s vote the most secure election in US history.
Democrats were incensed by calls for bipartisanship, particularly from Republicans who refused to recognize Biden’s election victory and voted to overturn the results of a democratic election even after the assault on the Capitol.
“It’s a bit much to be hearing that these people would not be trying to destroy our government and kill us if we just weren’t so mean to them,” said Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland congressman who will serve as the lead impeachment manager.
The House proceeded with impeachment on Wednesday after Mike Pence formally rejected calls to strip Trump of power by invoking the 25th amendment to the US constitution, which allows for the removal of a sitting president deemed unfit to perform his job.
Pence’s signal came just hours before the House passed a resolution calling on him to take the unprecedented action.
Trump’s day of reckoning on Capitol Hill comes less than a year after he was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial for pressuring Ukraine to open investigations into Biden and his son. But with just days left in his presidency, the political landscape had shifted dramatically.
No House Republicans voted in support when Trump was impeached in 2019 over his attempts to persuade the leader of Ukraine to investigate the family of Biden, then his election rival.
But as fear turned to fury in the days since the attack on the Capitol, senior Republican leaders signaled – tacitly and explicitly – a desire to purge the party of Trump. Their break with the president came only after months of tolerating and indulging his campaign of lies about a stolen election, long after it was undeniably clear he had lost.