The U.S. president was impeached on charges of “incitement of insurrection” in a vote that laid bare deep divisions within the Republican Party over its post-Trump future.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump again, making him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice.
Ten Republican lawmakers joined all 222 Democrats in supporting impeachment, which came a week after a pro-Trump mob violently breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, fueled by baseless claims from the president that the election was stolen from him. The final tally of the vote was 232 in favor and 197 against.
The articles of impeachment now go to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the process of removing the president from office before his term is up seems highly unlikely.
The Senate is expected to reconvene on Jan. 19, just one day before President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office, leaving little time for an impeachment trial and vote. In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had “not made a final decision” on his vote and intended to listen to legal arguments in the Senate—though he said that the upper chamber would not reach a verdict until after Trump leaves office.
But even if Trump is not removed from office prematurely, the vote represents another historic stain on the president’s legacy during his final weeks in the White House, a period of time that past presidents have used to focus on a smooth transition to their successors and take victory laps on their policy accomplishments. Neither of the other presidents who have faced impeachment—Bill Clinton or Andrew Johnson—has faced charges as severe: “willful incitement of insurrection.”
“Last Wednesday, our country watched in shock and horror when extremists—inspired by the President’s months of lies and invigorated by the President’s speech earlier in the day—attacked the U.S. Capitol building with aims to perpetrate violence and undermine our democracy,” said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA case officer, in a statement explaining her vote to impeach Trump. “Inside the building, we barricaded ourselves against domestic terrorists who were there out of loyalty to one man—not loyalty to our country.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking House Republican, announced her support for impeachment ahead of the vote in a statement blaming Trump for the mob violence that led to five deaths and dozens of injured police officers.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing,” Cheney said. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
The riotous mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 after Trump spoke at a nearby rally in which he doubled down on false claims of election fraud and accused his own vice president, Mike Pence, of betraying him for overseeing the largely ceremonial count of electoral ballots to confirm Biden’s win. Facing widespread political backlash from his own party after the riots turned deadly, Trump eventually condemned the violence and pledged an orderly transition process but refused to disavow his debunked claims of election fraud.
Among the Republicans who supported impeachment are: Cheney, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, John Katko of New York, and Fred Upton of Michigan. Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a former NFL wide receiver, also broke with the majority of his party to vote to impeach the president, as did Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice, Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, and California Rep. David Valadao. Eight of the Republicans who voted for impeachment represent districts won by Trump in the November 2020 elections.
The vote came as 10,000 National Guardsmen poured into Washington, D.C., with troops setting up checkpoints and blocking off traffic, underscoring fears of fresh security threats and violent protests in the lead-up to Inauguration Day.
The National Guard troops will be armed, a measure that came after a request from federal authorities was approved by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, according to the New York Times. Guardsmen deployed to deal with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week were not armed.
The number of guardsmen currently in Washington is double the number of U.S. troops expected to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington’s police chief said as many as 20,000 guardsmen could be in the capital by Jan. 20.
The transition team said in a statement today that Biden received a briefing from senior FBI and U.S. Secret Service officials “to gain as much information as possible on the threat picture, and on the preparations being put in place to deter and defend against violent disruptions or attacks.”
While it’s far from a critical mass, the new voices backing impeachment have laid bare deep fissures in the Republican Party that have been simmering behind the scenes since Trump took office. Yet the pro-Trump faction remains strong: Even after the violent assault on the Capitol, 147 Republican lawmakers still voted to contest Biden’s big electoral victory.
But Cheney’s break with the president and support of the impeachment–the most public stand from a member of the Republican leadership–could mark an important moment for the Republican caucus as lawmakers decide whether to embrace or cast aside Trump as the party moves forward.
The political showdown comes as federal authorities announced a massive investigation into sedition and conspiracy by some of the pro-Trump rioters and begin piecing together exactly how the Jan. 6 violence came to be. Some lawmakers have indicated that the scale and scope of the plans by rioters were much worse than what was initially understood.
Some Trumpist House members have swiftly issued calls for Cheney to resign as chair of the House Republican Conference. “She doesn’t represent Republican voters by supporting this political witch-hunt impeachment of President Trump,” said freshman Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been a vocal proponent of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
Even with McConnell signaling his support for impeachment—or at least not coming out against it—it remains unclear whether Democrats can secure 17 Republican “yes” votes for a two-thirds majority on impeachment. It’s also unclear whether there’s enough time left in Trump’s term—or the Senate calendar—to try the president before he leaves office. Further complicating the matter: There is a debate among legal experts on whether the Senate can hold an impeachment trial for a president who has already left office.
One former U.S. federal judge, J. Michael Luttig, argued in a Washington Post op-ed that the Senate can only impeach a currently sitting U.S. president—not a former one—though other constitutional law experts disagree with that assessment.
Other Republican lawmakers stopped short of backing impeachment but tried instead to vote on a resolution censuring Trump for his role in inciting the violence at the Capitol. They argued that a censure vote would put on record Congress’s objections to the president’s actions without further inflaming partisan tensions in the same way an impeachment vote would.
Pence, who had a dramatic falling out with the president following his role in overseeing the certification of the electoral votes, rebuffed Democrats’ efforts to get him to invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which allows a president’s cabinet to remove him from office, triggering Wednesday’s impeachment vote.
Update, Jan. 13, 2021: This article was updated after a majority of lawmakers in the House voted to impeach Trump.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer
Cailey Griffin is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @keenstoryteller