WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats laid plans Friday for impeaching President Donald Trump, even as he's headed out of the White House, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had spoken to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about preventing an “unhinged” Trump from ordering a nuclear strike in his final days.
Pelosi and the Democrats are considering swift impeachment — beginning Monday — after the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob that shocked the nation and the world.
“We must take action," Pelosi declared on a private conference call with Democrats.
She said she had also spoken with Gen. Mark Milley “to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes" for nuclear war. She said Milley assured her longstanding safeguards are in place.
The president has sole authority to order the launch of a nuclear weapon, but a military commander could refuse the order if it were determined to be illegal. Trump has not publicly made such threats, but some lawmakers are sounding alarms that he could do great damage on military or other issues on his way out.
The attack on the Capitol left five dead, including a protester and a police officer. Trump is to leave office Jan. 20 when Democrat Joe Biden is sworn in, and he has said he will not attend the inauguration.
“This unhinged president could not be more dangerous," Pelosi said of the current situation.
If Trump were to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, he might also be prevented from running again for the presidency in 2024 or ever holding public office again. He would be only the president twice impeached. A person granted anonymity to discuss the private call said Pelosi also discussed other ways Trump might be forced to resign.
Biden, meanwhile, said he is focused on his job as he prepares to take office. Asked about impeachment, he said, “That’s a decision for the Congress to make."
Conviction in the Republican Senate at this late date would seem unlikely, though in a sign of Trump's shattering of the party many Republicans were silent on the issue.
One Trump ally, Republican Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, said “impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more. ”
McCarthy said he has reached out to Biden and plans to speak with the Democratic president-elect about working together to “lower the temperature.”
The final days of Trump’s presidency are spinning toward a chaotic end as he holes up at the White House, abandoned by many aides, leading Republicans and Cabinet members. He was tweeting again after his Twitter account was reinstated, reverting to an aggressive statement that his supporters must not be “disrespected" after he sent out a calmer Thursday video decrying the violence.
Calls are mounting for legal action following the Capitol attack, in which one protester was shot to death by Capitol police and Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died. Three other people died from “medical emergencies” during the demonstration.
Strong criticism of Trump, who urged the protesters to march to the Capitol, continued unabated.
"Every day that he remains in office, he is a danger to the Republic,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Schiff, who led Trump’s impeachment in 2019, said in a statement that Trump “lit the fuse which exploded on Wednesday at the Capitol.”
Articles of impeachment are expected to be introduced on Monday, with a House vote as soon as Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the planning and granted anonymity to discuss it.
A draft of the impeachment resolution charges Trump with abuse of power, saying he “willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol."
On her call with colleagues, Pelosi grew emotional talking about Wednesday’s events. She told the lawmakers they had a choice to make on impeachment, according to a person on the call who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer have called on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to to force Trump from office. It’s a process for removing the president and installing the vice president to take over.
But action by Pence or the Cabinet now appears unlikely, especially after two top officials, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao suddenly resigned in the aftermath of the violence at the Capitol and would no longer be in the Cabinet to make such a case.
Trump had encouraged loyalists at a rally Wednesday at the White House to march on the Capitol where Congress was certifying the Electoral College tally of Biden's election.
Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, 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.
Schumer said he and Pelosi tried to call Pence early Thursday to discuss the 25th Amendment option but were unable to connect with him.
Most Democrats, and many Republicans, put the blame squarely on Trump after swarms of protesters bearing Trump flags and clothing broke into the Capitol and caused destruction and evacuations.
The House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in early 2020.
Three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee began Thursday to circulate articles of impeachment drafted by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California.
During a new conference Thursday, Pelosi 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?”
Pence has not publicly addressed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.