Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats are not backtracking from their promise to move forward with a Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump, even if doing so risks alienating Republican voters and draping a wet cloth over what newly sworn-in President Joe Biden can do in his first few weeks in office.
“The fact is, the president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection,” Ms Pelosi said at her weekly press conference at the Capitol on Thursday.
“I don't think it's very unifying to say, 'Oh, let's just forget it and move on.' That's not how you unify,” the speaker said.
She added: “Joe Biden said it beautifully — if we're going to unite, you must remember. And we must [remember].”
House Democrats, along with 10 Republicans, impeached Mr Trump for inciting the mob that stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, interrupting Congress’ certification of Mr Biden’s electoral victory for several hours by sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives from the House and Senate chambers.
The former president spent hours before the press during his final year in office casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election even before it happened, saying mail-in voting would lead to rampant voter fraud. After the election, Mr Trump, his campaign team, and dozens of congressional Republicans spent weeks challenging Mr Biden’s victory citing disproven conspiracy theories that were summarily dismissed in court for having no supporting evidence.
Throughout December, Mr Trump egged on rallygoers chanting “stop the steal” and falsely proclaimed himself the real winner of the 2020 contest.
On 6 January, the day Congress was set to certify Mr Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, Mr Trump told throngs of his supporters in Washington that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
He then exhorted them to march on Capitol Hill, where they overran police, ran roughshod through the Capitol, and, in some cases, tried to hunt down public officials, including Mr Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence.
Such reckless behaviour — which has politically radicalised millions of Americans and threatened to topple American democracy on 6 January — simply could not go unpunished, Ms Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
“Just because he's now gone — thank god — you don't say to a president, 'Do whatever you want in the last month of your administration — you're going to get a get-out-of-jail-free card,’” Ms Pelosi said of her decision to move forward with the impeachment process.
“I don't see that at all. I think that would be harmful to unity,” she said.
The House has not yet transmitted its ratified article of impeachment over to the Senate, which would trigger an immediate trial that could last weeks.
Such a move is likely to stall the confirmation of many of Mr Biden’s administrative appointments and halt momentum on key pieces of legislation he is eager to sign into law, such as another massive Covid aid package worth nearly $2trn.
Ms Pelosi refused to provide reporters with a timeline on when she would execute that transmission, although she did indicate it would follow the respective party leaders in the Senate agreeing on rules for the upcoming trial.
“It’s up to them [the Senate] to decide how we go forward. When we go forward. It will be soon. I don't think it will be long, but we must do it,” she said.
While several Senate Republicans, including their Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have left open the possibility of voting to convict Mr Trump of inciting the insurrection, the GOP is far from unified on the matter.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who voted against the impeachment article resolution last Wednesday, appeared to soften this week on how responsible he holds Mr Trump for the events of 6 January.
“I don’t believe he provoked [the riot], if you listen to what he said at the rally,” Mr McCarthy told reporters on Thursday.
Last week on the House floor, Mr McCarthy admitted Mr Trump should have done more in the moment to put an end to the insurrection — that the then-president had failed to act.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters,” Mr McCarthy said. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”