WASHINGTON – Momentum built among Democrats on Saturday for a fresh and fast push to impeach President Donald Trump, even as the House speaker accused his backers who violently invaded the Capitol of choosing “their whiteness over democracy.”
Nancy Pelosi's remark came as Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., one of the chief sponsors of draft impeachment articles accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said at midday that his group's draft had collected 176 co-sponsors. The lawmakers plan to formally introduced the proposal Monday, with a vote possible by Wednesday.
Pelosi, addressing her hometown San Francisco constituents during an online video conference, shed no fresh light on Democrats' plans. Her party seems intent on pressing ahead against Trump, even though there is virtually no chance the Republican-led Senate will act to remove him before his term ends Jan. 20.
“Justice will be done. Democracy will prevail. And America will be healed. But it is a decision that we have to make," Pelosi said.
A largely white throng of Trump supporters broke through police lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they put the final, formal touches on Democrat Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump. The crowd surged to the Capitol after being urged by Trump to march there in force during remarks in which he repeated his bogus claim that his election defeat was fraudulent.
“It has been an epiphany for the world to see that there are people in our country led by this president, for the moment, who have chosen their whiteness over democracy,” Pelosi said of Wednesday's attack, during which five people died.
She added: “This cannot be exaggerated. The complicity, not only the complicity, the instigation of the president of United States, must and will be addressed."
No. 4 House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., reiterated his support for moving against what he called “an act of sedition that was incited and encouraged by Donald Trump.”
At a news conference in New York, Jeffries added, “He should be impeached, convicted and thrown out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and forever banished to the dustbin of history."
The outrage over the attack and Trump's role in it capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. With less than two weeks until he's gone, Democrats want him out — now — and he has few defenders speaking up for him in his own Republican Party.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”
Trump has been holing up at the White House, abandoned by many aides, top Republicans and Cabinet members. After refusing to concede defeat in the November election, he has now promised a smooth transfer of power when Biden is sworn in. But even so, he says he will not attend the inauguration — the first such presidential snub since just after the Civil War.
In Congress, where many have watched and reeled as the president spent four years breaking norms and testing the nation's guardrails of democracy, Democrats are unwilling to take further chances. The mayhem that erupted Wednesday at the Capitol stunned the world and threatened the traditional peaceful transfer of power.
Pelosi said she had spoken to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 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 officials warn of grave danger if the president is left unchecked.
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.”
The Democrats are considering lightning-quick action. A draft of their Articles of Impeachment accuses Trump of abuse of power, saying he “willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol."
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 the only president twice impeached. A person on the call said Pelosi also discussed other ways Trump might be forced to resign.
Trump spokesman Judd Deere said, “A politically motivated impeachment against a President with 12 days remaining in his term will only serve to further divide our great country.”
Twitter said late Friday it was permanently suspending Trump from its platform, citing “risk of further incitement of violence.”
The soonest the Senate could begin an impeachment trial under the current calendar would be Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.
One Trump ally, Republican Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, did speak up, saying as the White House did that “impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more. ”
Democratic leaders have called on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to force Trump from office. It’s a process for removing the president and installing the vice president to take over.
Pelosi said later that option remains on the table. 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 and would no longer be in the Cabinet to make such a case.
The House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in early 2020.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.