On Monday morning, House Democrats filed one article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, accusing him of “Incitement of Insurrection.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that she would bring up impeachment if Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet did not use the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. On Monday morning, House Republicans blocked unanimous consent on a measure asking Pence to invoke the amendment.
The 4-page impeachment resolution includes only one claim against the president, but it is damning. However, proving Trump guilty of “incitement of insurrection” in regards to the Capitol riots last Wednesday is an extremely high bar.
The impeachment resolution begins by citing the Constitution’s impeachment provision — that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’” — and the 14th Amendment, which states that any person who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States shall be barred from “hold[ing] any office . . . under the United States.”
“In his conduct while President of the United States—and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed—Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States,” the resolution argues.
The Democrats note that the House, Senate, and vice president met on January 6, 2021, to count the Electoral College votes.
“In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials,” the impeachment resolution notes.
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Before Congress met, Trump addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., the resolution notes.
There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide”. He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore”. Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.
The impeachment resolution notes that this speech followed “prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election.”
The Democrats particularly cite “a phone call on January 2, 3 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.”
Through these actions, Trump “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” the impeachment resolution argues. “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
Tellingly, the impeachment resolution did not just call for the impeachment and removal of President Donald Trump, but for the Senate to bar him from serving in any public office in the future.
“Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States,” the resolution concludes.
On Sunday, Pelosi suggested that many House Democrats want to impeach Trump specifically to prevent him from holding office in the future.
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“There is a possibility that after all of this, there’s no punishment, no consequence, and he could run again for president,” 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl asked the House speaker. “And that’s one of the motivations that people have for advocating for impeachment,” Pelosi responded.
While some of Trump’s statements during the Capitol riots were beyond the pale, the president has since condemned the rioters and promised to support a peaceful transition of power.
If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, the Senate would almost certainly not remove Trump before January 20. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will not reconvene the Senate until January 19, effectively dooming impeachment while Trump is in office.
Impeaching Trump for allegedly inciting the Capitol riots would set a terrible precedent. The president never told his supporters to break into the Capitol or engage in violence. Urging people to “fight like hell” in a political speech is hardly insurrectionary. This impeachment would set a precedent that Congress could impeach a president if the majority party interprets aggressive rhetoric as incitement to violence.
It would also raise questions about Democrats’ aggressive rhetoric. Pelosi herself called for “uprisings” against the Trump administration. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) claimed that allegedly marginalized groups have “no choice but to riot.” Incoming Vice President Kamala Harris said the destructive and deadly Black Lives Matter riots of this past summer “should not” stop.
Trump’s efforts to block the certification of the Electoral College votes went beyond the pale. He even argued that Pence should unilaterally reject electoral votes from contested states — even though the vice president’s role in counting such votes is purely ceremonial. (Do Republicans really want to give Kamala Harris unilateral power to reject 2024 electoral votes on the same principle?)
Pence wisely rejected that strategy, and he will wisely reject the 25th Amendment strategy, as well.
It seems likely Democrats will pass this article of impeachment and impeach Trump a second time in the twilight hours of his presidency. However, if they want to permanently disqualify Trump from public office in the future, they will have to convince two-thirds of the Senate to convict the president.
If two-thirds of the Senate convicts the president, the Senate will hold a separate vote to bar Trump from further office — that only requires a majority vote.
In either case, impeaching Trump for supposedly inciting an insurrection will only further inflame the president’s supporters and alienate Republicans who are hesitant to defend Trump’s statements but wary of Democratic overreach. After the Capitol riots, Big Tech has gone after conservative speakers and platforms like Parler. Republicans rightly condemned the violence in the Capitol, but it seems the Left is ready to use that violence as an excuse for a dangerous power grab.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.