WASHINGTON D.C. — As the U.S. House of Representatives moved on Wednesday toward a vote on impeaching President Trump, Republican leaders in the Senate weighed whether to launch a trial on Friday on whether to remove him from office, a source familiar with the deliberations said, though no final decision was reached.
With only a week remaining in Trump’s tumultuous four-year term, an immediate trial could allow the Senate to vote on whether to oust him before he leaves the White House and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
The internal Senate discussions took place as the Democratic-controlled House moved toward impeaching the president for his role in last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters breached the building’s security, sent lawmakers fleeing and left five dead in their wake, including a police officer.
Just after noon, a majority of the House approved a procedural measure clearing the way for a vote, expected later in the day, on a single article of impeachment formally charging Trump with inciting insurrection in a speech shortly before the riot.
“The president of the United States instigated an attempted coup in this country,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said on the House floor. “If this is not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what the hell is.”
Some Republicans made speeches urging the House not to impeach Trump in the interest in promoting national healing.
Lawmakers remained on edge after last week’s violence and large numbers of National Guard troops wearing fatigues and carrying rifles were stationed outside and inside the building.
If the House approves it, Trump — already one of only three presidents to be impeached — would become the first president to see it happen twice.
Under the U.S. Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had previously suggested no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Jan. 19, only a day before Biden is due to be sworn in.
Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have pressured McConnell to agree to bring the Senate back sooner under emergency circumstances and the source noted that the Senate has already scheduled a normally sparsely attended “pro forma” session on Friday.
The New York Times reported that McConnell is said to be pleased by the House impeachment push.
If Trump is impeached, a two-thirds majority of the Republican-led Senate is needed to convict him, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to find him guilty.
Trump’s actions have weakened his once-iron grip over his party. While no Republican senators have said they would vote to convict, two — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — have called on Trump to resign.
At least five House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), a member of her party’s leadership team, said they would vote for impeachment.
The House convened in the same chamber where lawmakers hid under chairs and donned gas masks last Wednesday as rioters clashed with police in the halls of the Capitol, after Trump in an incendiary speech urged supporters to march on the building.
In a break from standard procedure, Republican leaders in the House have refrained from urging their members to vote against impeaching Trump, saying it was a matter of individual conscience.
“Instead of moving forward as a unifying force, the majority in the House is choosing to divide us further,” Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said on the House floor. “Let us look forward, not backward. Let us come together, not apart. Let us celebrate the peaceful transition of power to a new president rather than impeaching an old president.”
Cole was one of 139 House Republicans who voted against certifying the Nov. 3 presidential election results on Jan. 6, hours after the violence, after the Republican president repeated his false claims of widespread voting fraud.
Other Republicans argued Democrats were rushing to judgment for political reasons and called for the creation of a commission to study the events surrounding the siege as an alternative.
If Trump is removed from office, Vice President Pence would become president and fill out his term.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat, said Democrats intended to send the impeachment charge, once approved, to the Senate “as soon as possible” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named nine impeachment managers who would present the House’s case during a Senate trial.
Hoyer told reporters he expected between 10 and 20 House Republicans to vote for impeachment on Wednesday.
Washington is on high alert ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
Democrats moved forward on an impeachment vote after Pence rejected an effort to persuade him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove Trump.
The House previously voted to impeach Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election, as Democrats accused him of soliciting foreign interference to smear a domestic political rival. The Republican-led Senate in February 2020 voted to keep Trump in office.
Wednesday’s article of impeachment accused Trump of “incitement of insurrection”, saying he provoked violence against the U.S. government in a speech to thousands of supporters near the White House shortly before the Capitol siege. The article also cited Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call asking a Georgia official to “find” votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.
In his first public appearance since last Wednesday’s riot, Trump showed no contrition on Tuesday for his speech shortly before the siege.
“What I said was totally appropriate,” Trump told reporters.
Democrats could also use an impeachment trial to push through a vote blocking Trump from running for office again.
Only a simple Senate majority is needed to disqualify Trump from future office, but there is disagreement among legal experts as to whether an impeachment conviction is required first.