At least five Republicans are backing the impeachment, a second for President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump is on the verge of being impeached for a second time in a fast-moving House vote, just a week after he encouraged loyalists to “fight like hell” against election results and then a mob of supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Security was exceptionally tight on Wednesday, shocking images of National Guard troops massed at the iconic Capitol, with secure perimeters around the complex and metal-detector screenings required for lawmakers entering the House chamber.
While Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 brought no Republican votes in the House, a small but significant number of leaders and lawmakers are breaking with the party to join Democrats, saying Trump violated his oath to protect and defend US democracy.
The stunning collapse of Trump’s final days in office, against alarming warnings of more violence ahead by his followers, leaves the nation at an uneasy and unfamiliar juncture before Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated January 20.
A week after Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol building, the House of Representatives began an emotional debate on impeaching him for his role in an assault on American democracy that stunned the world and left five dead.
At least five Republicans have said they would join Democrats in voting for an article of impeachment - a formal charge - of inciting an insurrection, although just seven days remain for a Senate trial to expel Trump from office.
If the Democratic-led House approves it, Trump would become the first president impeached twice.
"The president of the United States instigated an attempted coup in this country," Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said on the House floor before a procedural vote on moving forward with impeachment.
"People died. Everybody should be outraged. 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.
The extraordinary swiftness with which Democrats were moving reflects the ongoing danger that Trump poses to national security, according to top Democrats. It also increases pressure on Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, to consider holding an immediate trial.
McConnell has said no trial could begin until the chamber returns from its recess on January 19, one day before Trump's term ends and Biden is sworn in.
But Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is set to become the majority leader after two newly elected Democratic senators from Georgia are seated and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in later this month, told reporters the Senate could be recalled to handle the matter if McConnell agrees.
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.
Hoyer told reporters he expected between 10 and 20 House Republicans to vote for impeachment.
Washington is on high alert after the January 6 riot, with a week to go in Trump's term. Thousands of National Guard troops were to be on hand and some service members wearing fatigues, with weapons at hand, could be seen sleeping inside the Capitol building yesterday ahead of the session.
The House convened just after 8pm Bangladesh time in the same chamber where lawmakers hid under chairs last Wednesday as rioters clashed with police in the halls of the Capitol, after an incendiary speech in which Trump urged supporters to march on the building.
House Republicans who opposed the impeachment drive argued Democrats were going too far, as Trump was on the verge of leaving office, and argued for the creation of a commission to study the events surrounding the siege.
Republican Representative Jason Smith accused Democrats of acting recklessly and urged the House not to impeach Trump in order to help "heal the nation."
Media: McConnell backs impeachment
McConnell is said to welcome the move to start impeachment proceedings and that he believes that a second impeachment could help rid the Republican party of the Trump movement, multiple American news outlets reported.
The New York Times, which was first to report, said McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses ahead of last week's deadly riot at the US Capitol.
Fox News and CNN, citing sources, backed up parts of the Times report. They noted that it's not yet clear if McConnell will vote to impeach should it reach the Senate. The Times reports he wants to see the specific article first.
But a Senate Republican source told CNN that if McConnell votes to convict, it likely means there will be 67 senators to support it - the minimum necessary for a conviction. With a 50-50 Senate, and assuming all Democrats vote to convict, that means 17 Republicans must do so as well.
Democrats moved forward on an impeachment vote after Vice President Mike Pence rejected an effort to persuade him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution to remove Trump.
As the House prepared for the impeachment vote, there were signs Trump's hold on the Republican Party was beginning to ebb. At least five House Republicans, including Liz Cheney, a member of her party's leadership team, said they would vote for his second impeachment - a prospect no president before Trump has faced.
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Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler, John Katko, Adam Kinzinger and Fred Upton also said they supported impeachment.
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.
In his first public appearance since January 6 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 needed before a disqualification vote.
A different part of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, also provides a procedure for disqualifying Trump from future office with a simple majority of both chambers.