Democrats' momentum for a fresh drive to quickly impeach outgoing President Donald Trump gained traction at the weekend as a second Republican senator called for the president to step down over his role in inciting rioters who stormed the US Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to her Democratic colleagues late on Saturday reiterating that Trump must be held accountable – but stopped short of committing to an impeachment vote. Still, she told her caucus, “I urge you to be prepared to return to Washington this week.”
“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”
Pelosi said House Democrats “will be proceeding with meetings with Members and Constitutional experts and others”.
The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump's presidential record – for the second time and days before his term ends – with the indelible mark of impeachment gained more supporters Saturday. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles – or charges – accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.
Lawmakers plan to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate. If Democrats decide to move forward, a vote could be possible by Wednesday — exactly one week before Democrat Joe Biden becomes president at noon on January 20.
The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.
Earlier Saturday, Pelosi told her San Francisco constituents during an online video conference that it is "a decision that we have to make”.
Potentially complicating that decision is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide”.
If the House decided to impeach, the soonest the Senate could begin an impeachment trial under the current calendar would be January 20, Inauguration Day.
'Go away as soon as possible'
A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.
Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.
“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 the attack.
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.”
On Sunday, a second Republican US senator called for Trump to resign, saying the president could face criminal liability after the deadly storming of the US Capitol by his supporters.
"I think the best way for our country is for the president to resign and go away as soon as possible," Senator Pat Toomey, a conservative supporter of Trump until recently, said on NBC's "Meet the Press", calling Trump's behaviour since the election "outrageous".
Toomey, appearing on several Sunday television news shows, said he did not think there was time for an impeachment with only 10 days left in Trump's term, and noted there did not appear to be consensus to use the Constitution's 25th Amendment to strip Trump of his powers.
He told CNN he believed Trump could be held criminally liable in the events at the Capitol.
Toomey's call followed that of fellow Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who said on Friday that Trump should resign immediately. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a frequent Trump critic, also told CBS he would "definitely consider" impeachment.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)