Donald Trump should have been removed from office a year ago. But Republicans in Congress failed the country. Now, the question is whether they will fail again by making excuses about the lateness of the hour.
The Constitution leaves no doubt that it is never too late to impeach and remove a president who poses a threat to the republic. And, make no mistake, Trump poses a threat.
His incitement of the riotous takeover of the US Capitol on Wednesday is a classic example of what the founders understood as a high crime, and there is every reason to believe Trump will commit more high crimes if he is allowed to finish his term.
“The urgency of this moment is real and we have to be courageous and unified in defense of our Republic,” says Representative Ilhan Omar, who has taken up the push for impeachment. “The time to stand up to a tyrant is now and history will not be kind to those who sit on the sidelines.”
In a letter to colleagues, which Omar circulated Thursday, the representative wrote, “Every single hour that Donald Trump remains in office, our country, our democracy, and our national security remain in danger. Congress must take immediate action to keep the people of this country safe and set a precedent that such behavior cannot be tolerated.”
Yes, the timeline is short. But the impeachment power, as established in 1787, was designed with a recognition of the need for flexibility. The Constitution simply says, “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It tells us that the House impeaches, and the Senate tries and removes. That’s it.
There is no requirement for extended hearings or debates when the high crimes and misdemeanors have taken place in plain sight, and when the threat of further abuses remains all too real. Members of the two chambers can fill in the blanks, and in so doing respect the oath they have sworn: “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Indeed, at this point, a failure to impeach and remove Trump would be a rejection of the second part of that oath, which requires members of the Congress “to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who, with the seating of two new Democratic senators from Georgia, will soon become the majority leader, recognized the need for quick action on Thursday. “What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not hold office one day longer,” he said on Thursday. “The quickest and most effective way—it can be done today—to remove this president from office would be for the Vice President to immediately invoke the 25th amendment. If the Vice President and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Schumer’s call, but, predictably, Pence was resistant. Trying to convince the vice president and members of the cabinet is a fool’s mission at this point. Congress has to step up, and House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler has the right perspective on how to do so. “We have a limited period of time in which to act,” says Nadler. “The nation cannot afford a drawn-out process and I support bringing articles of impeachment directly to the House floor.”
Representative Omar has taken the vital first step by circulating an impeachment resolution that proposes to “remove [Trump] from office immediately so that he cannot threaten our democracy and the world any longer or hold public office ever again.” Omar’s resolution focuses on the latest high crimes:
On January 6th, 2021, President Trump encouraged individuals who traveled to Washington, District of Columbia to violently attack the United States Capitol while both chambers of Congress were in session. After those supporters had violently breached the Capitol, he put out a further statement repeating his false claims of election fraud and telling the members of the mob, “We love you, you’re very special.”
Additionally, on January 2, 2021, President Trump violated his constitutional duty to uphold the laws of the United States when, on a recorded call, he repeatedly asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the finalized and verified results of the November 2020 Presidential election in the State of Georgia. President Trump misused the power of his office by threatening an elected official with unspecified consequences if he failed to pursue the President’s false claims and attempting to coerce an elected official to commit fraud.
The facts are not up for debate.
The only question is whether Congress is prepared to act. Dozens of Democrats have indicated that they are ready. Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Al Green of Texas, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Mondaire Jones of New York, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Cori Bush of Missouri, have signed on as co-leaders with Omar of the impeachment effort. A dozen other Democratic members have already signed on as cosponsors of the resolution.
“Donald Trump incited a violent mob to descend upon the legislative branch, all in an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election and undermine the integrity of our democracy,” says Representative Jones. “We must ensure that this is nothing more than a last gasp for Donald Trump and his Republican co-conspirators in the House and Senate. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in calling for impeachment. Hundreds of Donald Trumps in the Republican Party seek to ascend to higher office, and we must send them a message that no one is above the law.”
Jones is right to focus on the Republicans. During the impeachment process of a year ago, the Republican Party was very nearly unanimous in its defense of Trump. It blocked accountability and facilitated his ongoing wrongdoing. Now, after Trump has incited a riotous assault on the Capitol where they serve, the question is whether House and Senate Republicans are prepared to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.
They cannot do so with self-serving statements distancing themselves from the president they have endorsed, campaigned with, defended, and empowered over the past four years. They can do so only by supporting full accountability.
There is nothing radical about impeaching Donald Trump. It is the proper and necessary response to a president who incites mob violence against not just the Congress but the rule of law itself.
This is a moment for choosing between Wednesday’s fascistic violence and American democracy. Congress must recognize the ongoing threat posed by the rioters who attacked the Capitol—most of whom were allowed to walk away after they invaded and occupied the building—and by the president who has urged them on. Congress must also recognize that for the better part of two weeks, Trump will—if he is not impeached and removed—remain in a position to abuse his position in dramatic and dangerous ways.
This is a threat that should have been addressed a year ago. At the close of his argument for Trump’s removal last February, Representative Adam Schiff warned Senate Republicans: “You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all.”
Those words hold true. The threat will linger for so long as Trump remains in a position to assault democracy, undermine governing and unleash new horrors.
Impeachment addresses the threat the president poses to the country. It also puts our elected representatives on the spot, which is exactly where they belong.
There was never a legitimate middle ground on the question of impeaching Donald Trump. Those who imagined that it existed a year ago were wildly wrong. If they choose to maintain the lie now, they are every bit as dangerous as Trump.