As demands for the impeachment of Donald Trump grew in intensity Saturday, House Democrats united in support of a strategy to address the threat posed by a president who on January 6 incited a mob to storm the Capitol where members of Congress were certifying the election of Joe Biden as Trump’s successor. House Democrats will on Monday give Vice Pence 24 hours to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump. If Pence fails to act, the impeachment process will begin on Tuesday.
Three key members of the House Judiciary Committee—Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, and Jamie Raskin of Maryland—have secured more than 200 cosponsors for a draft article of impeachment against Trump that is expected to be introduced Monday and brought up for consideration as soon as Wednesday.
There were also indications that the House could take additional steps to promote accountability and to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to take necessary action in the final days of Trump’s presidency. Concerned that Pence and the cabinet will fail to invoke the 25th Amendment, House members are talking about embracing Raskin’s proposal to put teeth into its congressional oversight provisions. And there is a burgeoning discussion about utilizing an option outlined in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to bar Trump from ever holding office again.
The coming week has the potential to see the House take decisive action on a multipronged agenda—elements of which are outlined below—to address an urgent moment when the nation is on edge over what Cicilline describes as “an attempted coup.” With fresh polls showing overwhelming support for Trump’s removal from office, it is not too much to ask that Democrats move boldly on an array of accountability measures at the same time. In fact, this is the best strategy for addressing the crisis created when the president incited an insurrection.
Each formal action that is taken to hold Trump to account will matter, in the moment, and for posterity. As one of the nation’s most effective democracy activists, Massachusetts Voter Table Executive Director Beth Huang, explained after the assault on the Capitol that left five people dead and interrupted the certification of the results of a presidential election that Trump lost, “I want Trump to be removed so that every 5th grader who asks ‘why was Mike Pence President for 2 days’ hears a story about why white supremacy and fascism are threats to democracy. Millions of students in the next decades will ask this question and will know to reject fascism.”
That is what every American with a conscience, and with honest concern for the fate of the nation, should want.
It remains to be seen how far Congress will get in the formal project of removing Trump—or forcing his resignation. No one is naive; bitter experience reminds us of the partisan and structural barriers that exist. Yet every step that is made to constrain Trump in the moment, and every move that is made to guard against future abuses, is of consequence. “This is about Trump, absolutely. But this is about so much more than Trump,” says Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a key member of the House who has been among the most ardent advocates of bold and immediate action. “If Congress does nothing, if Congress does too little, it will essentially be saying that the behavior of the last four years, the disregard for the Constitution and democracy, the threats to the ability of the elected representatives of the people to govern that we saw on Wednesday, will become a part of who we are, of what this country is.”
Speculation about the roadblocks to action, especially in a Republican-controlled Senate, have proliferated too much. The fact is that there is much the House can and must do. Acting decisively on a targeted package of initiatives will build pressure on the Senate to take up accountability proposals, while Trump remains in office and after he leaves. And it can speak to future presidents—and to future generations that must never forget what Trump has put this country through.
At this critical juncture, attention is focusing on three accountability measures. They can be raised and addressed this week. They have the potential to secure at least some bipartisan support in the House. And they can put pressure on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Republicans to answer the call by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and for action to remove the president. They are:
- Impeachment. Several impeachment resolutions have been drafted or are in the process of being drafted. The privileged impeachment resolution authored by Cicilline, Lieu, and Raskin—has gained the most traction, securing 210 cosponsors as of Sunday night. The resolution recounts how Trump incited the mob that “unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel,” “menaced members of Congress and the vice president” and “engaged in violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts”—by any measure a high crime—and in so doing “betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.” Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, says, “We can use procedural tools to get articles of impeachment to the floor for a House vote quickly.”
How quickly? House leaders are likely to ask the House Rules Committee, which is expected to meet on Monday, to approve a fast-track strategy that moves the measure directly to the floor for consideration as soon as Wednesday. McConnell is dragging his feet, suggesting that the Senate cannot act before January 19, one day before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated. But impeachment supporters believe that rapid House action will meet the urgency of the moment, put pressure on House Republicans who have condemned the president to take tangible action, and establish a framework for a rapid Senate response if Trump creates more trouble—as many suspect he will—in coming days.
- Bar Trump from ever holding office again. On Friday, when House Democrats discussed responses to Trump’s incitement of insurrection, there was some discussion of a 14th Amendment strategy for barring Trump from holding office in the future. Section Three of the amendment declares: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Section Five of the amendment, which was enacted after the Civil War with an eye toward preventing supporters of the Confederacy from returning to power, “vests Congress with the authority to adopt ‘appropriate’ legislation to enforce the other parts of the Amendment.”
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Eric Foner suggests that the House could, with a simple majority vote, censure Trump for inciting insurrection and effectively bar him from running again for the presidency. “This can be invoked against anyone who has ever taken an oath to support the Constitution, including the president,” he explains. “It’s much simpler than impeachment. It is not a judicial proceeding. It’s a political proceeding. It doesn’t involve lawyers or trials. It is simply about qualification for office. You could have one afternoon of debate and a vote.” A Senate vote would require a simple majority, as opposed to the two-thirds supermajority required for impeachment.
- Put teeth into the 25th Amendment. If Vice President Pence fails to heed the call to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment, that will highlight the weakness of the amendment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that if Pence does not act, “I have instructed the Rules Committee to be prepared to move forward with Congressman Jamie Raskin’s 25th Amendment legislation and a motion for impeachment.” Raskin’s proposed legislation would have Congress establish and appoint an independent Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity—as is allowed under the amendment—that would determine the fitness of a president to continue in office. It doesn’t specifically mention Trump, as he explained to The Nation last year. But approving this legislation immediately could increase pressure on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, even in the final days of Trump’s term, and potentially on Trump to resign.
Last week exposed the threat Trump poses. This week, Congress can address that threat and, as Representative Lieu says, “ensure for the next 200 years of our Republic that our children know we took swift action after an attack on our Capitol and Congress.”