WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are discussing whether to act quickly to impeach President Donald Trump as soon as next week if his Cabinet doesn’t first try to remove him after he encouraged loyalists who ransacked the Capitol in a siege that has left five people dead.
If Trump, whose term ends Jan. 20, were to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, he could be prevented from running again in 2024 or ever holding the presidency again. Trump would be only the president to be twice impeached.
House Democrats planned a caucus meeting at noon Friday, the first since Wednesday’s harrowing events at the Capitol, and could take up articles of impeachment against Trump as early as the week ahead. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., discussed the prospect of impeachment with her leadership team Thursday night, hours after announcing the House was willing to act if Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials did not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — the forceful removal of Trump from power by his own Cabinet.
The final days of Trump's presidency are spinning toward a chaotic end as he holes up at the White House, abandoned by aides, leading Republicans and Cabinet members. He is set to leave office when Democrat Joe Biden is sworn in, but top officials are gravely warning of the damage that he still could cause on his way out.
Rep. Adam Schiff, who led Trump's impeachment in 2019, said in a statement Friday that Trump “lit the fuse which exploded on Wednesday at the Capitol."
Schiff, D-Calif., said that "every day that he remains in office, he is a danger to the Republic.”
Five people are now dead from the violent melee, including a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick. Pelosi said in a statement Friday that Sicknick's death “reminds us of our obligation to those we serve: to protect our country from all threats foreign and domestic.”
She said those responsible for the officer's death “must be brought to justice.”
Though Trump has less than two weeks in his term, lawmakers and even some in his administration began discussing options for his removal Wednesday afternoon as Trump first encouraged rally-goers near the White House to march on the Capitol, then refused to forcefully condemn the assault and appeared to excuse it.
Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, a member of House Democratic leadership, said procedural steps could allow lawmakers to move far more quickly than they did on Trump's impeachment last year.
Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said he could confirm that "we have had discussions about it and I would hope that the speaker would move forward if the vice president refuses to do what he is required to do under the Constitution.” Clyburn, D-S.C., told CNN: “Everyone knows that this president is deranged.”
One leading Republican critic of Trump, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said he will “definitely consider” impeachment.
“The president has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse told CBS' "This Morning.” He said what Trump did was “wicked” in inciting the mob. If the House impeaches, “I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move,” Sasse said.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have called for Trump's Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to force Trump from office before Biden is inaugurated. Schumer said he and Pelosi tried to call Pence early Thursday to discuss that option but were unable to connect with him.
Pelosi, during a new conference Thursday, challenged several Cabinet members by name, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
“Do they stand by these actions?" Pelosi asked. "Are they ready to say that for the next 13 days this dangerous man can do further harm to our country?”
Most Democrats, and many Republicans, put the blame squarely on Trump after hundreds of protesters bearing Trump flags and clothing broke into the Capitol and caused destruction and mass evacuations. The president had urged his supporters to protest as Congress was counting the electoral votes that confirmed Biden’s win.
Pelosi said “a threshold was crossed of such magnitude” that Trump should not be allowed to make any decisions.
Three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee began Thursday to circulate articles of impeachment. Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California wrote in the articles that Trump “willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol.”
The House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in early 2020.
Pence has not publicly addressed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, but that possibility may have faded after two Cabinet members resigned Thursday in protest after Trump egged on protesters who then mounted the deadly assault on the Capitol.
Yet senior Trump administration officials did raise the long-shot possibility as the chaos unfolded at the Capitol. Officials across the government went so far as to study up on the procedures for declaring Trump “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
No member of the Cabinet has publicly expressed support for the move, which would make Pence the acting president. But several were believed to be sympathetic to the notion, believing Trump is too volatile in his waning days.
Under the 25th Amendment, Trump could dispute his Cabinet’s finding, but the Cabinet could quickly reaffirm its position, keeping Pence in power while the question fell to lawmakers.
While the House could quickly vote to impeach Trump, it is extremely unlikely that Congress could remove the president in the next 13 days. The Senate would have to receive the articles and then hold a trial and vote on them.
And even if it did so, the Republican Senate would be unlikely to vote to convict. Democrats are set to narrowly take the Senate when Biden is inaugurated, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds the gavel until then.
But in one measure of the uncomfortable position that Trump’s goading of the mob had placed Republican lawmakers, there was a noteworthy lack of GOP statements attacking Democrats’ calls for his removal.
Biden distanced himself from his fellow Democrats' push to oust Trump with the 25th Amendment. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the president-elect, said Biden was focused on taking office on Jan. 20 “and will leave it to Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and the Congress to act as they see fit.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.