Washington lawmakers split along party lines Tuesday as the House approved a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove President Donald Trump from office in the final days of his term, with Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside) voting against the resolution and Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Issaquah) voting for it.
Just before the House passed the nonbinding resolution on a party-line vote Tuesday night, Pence sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arguing he did not have the authority to make the unprecedented move. Pence’s widely expected refusal set the stage for the House to impeach the president Wednesday for his role in inciting last week’s siege of the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead and dozens of police officers injured.
While the outcome of Wednesday’s vote is not in question – Democrats have the 218 votes needed to approve the single article of impeachment – suspense surrounds the number of Republicans who will vote to impeach Trump. Late Tuesday, southwest Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said she would vote to impeach the president, making her the fifth House Republican to support impeachment.
“The President of the United States incited a riot aiming to halt the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next,” Herrera Beutler said in a statement. “I believe President Trump acted against his oath of office, so I will vote to impeach him.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking member of House GOP leadership, became the most prominent member of her party to back impeachment Tuesday evening.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President.”
Spokespeople for Northwest Republicans – Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Dan Newhouse of central Washington and Russ Fulcher, who represents North Idaho – declined to say how the lawmakers planned to vote Wednesday. All seven Washington Democrats in the House have called for Trump’s removal.
McMorris Rodgers previously held the GOP conference chair role now occupied by Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
GOP Reps. John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Fred Upton of Michigan have said they will vote to impeach the president, and other House Republicans have signaled they may do the same.
While many Republicans were privately outraged at Trump’s role in Wednesday’s events, the impeachment vote presents the GOP with a vexing question: Is the risk of angering voters loyal to Trump worth the potential upside of making a clean break from the president who has defined the party for four years?
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment a year ago, lawmakers will vote Wednesday on a single article of impeachment to charge the president with “incitement of insurrection.”
The succinct document cites Trump’s two-month effort to claim his loss in the November election was the result of a vast conspiracy, culminating in a speech outside the White House Jan. 5 where he directed supporters to march to the Capitol and demand lawmakers or Pence block the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, something the vice president had no authority to do.
“We’re going to have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us,” Trump told the crowd. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
When the legislators returned to the House chamber the evening of Jan. 5, past broken glass and blood-stained marble floors, two-thirds of House Republicans followed Trump’s demand and objected to Electoral College results. After some in the GOP condemned Trump’s role in stoking the day’s violence and pleaded for him to call off the mob, the president issued a statement calling for peace and telling rioters he loved them while repeating his false claims of vote rigging .
On Tuesday, Trump said “everybody” thought his remarks before the insurrection were “totally appropriate.”
In debate on the House floor Tuesday, few Republicans defended Trump’s words and actions, calling instead for Congress to unify and move forward with the Biden transition, a hard pivot after GOP lawmakers spent months giving credence to the president’s baseless claims of massive voter fraud.
“We’ve heard President-elect Biden and other members of the Democratic Party call for unity, a path forward for our nation, full of mutual consideration and respect,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz. “Yet here we are today, with Democrats charging in the opposite direction, further dividing our nation.”
Democrats sought to draw a direct line from Trump’s rhetoric to last week’s chaos at the Capitol, which left a police officer and four others dead.
“These rioters viewed the president’s repeated claims of fraud as a mandate to act,” said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. “Lies, misinformation and demagoguery have consequences. Unfortunately, America witnessed those consequences last week, some on television, some under tables and barricaded offices, some in these House chambers and some in their last moments of life.”
After the impeachment vote expected Wednesday, the House will send the article of impeachment to the Senate for a trial, where at least 18 Republicans would need to join the Democrats to secure a conviction. Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, has called the impeachment plan “ill-advised.”
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has reportedly told associates he favors impeachment and said he does not plan to speak to Trump again, but other GOP senators face complex political calculations, including many who face re-election in 2022 and are wary of alienating a voter base that overwhelmingly supports the defeated president.
The Senate is not scheduled to reconvene until Tuesday, a day before Biden’s inauguration, meaning even a swift impeachment trial could not remove Trump before his term ends. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is reportedly exploring an emergency option to bring the Senate back into session earlier, but that move would require McConnell’s assent and would not likely buy senators enough time to convict the president before Jan. 20.
A conviction could allow senators to bar Trump from future public office, an appealing possibility for Republicans who want to see their party move on from Trump and especially for those who are considering a run for president in 2024. Others in the GOP fear a successful impeachment trial could further inflame Trump supporters who have already shown their willingness to bring violence to the nation’s capital.