WASHINGTON – Donald Trump begins one of the most perilous weeks of his presidency Monday as momentum for a second impeachment soared over the weekend and a growing number of Republicans broke ranks to openly call for his removal.
House Democrats said they were prepared to vote on impeachment as early as Tuesday for Trump’s role in inciting a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. In a show of the president’s evaporating support within his own party, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., suggested Trump should resign and could face “criminal liability” for his actions.
Trump has only days remaining in his term – a point supporters noted – but the debate over how Congress should respond is focused largely on his legacy and his ability to control the GOP once President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20. Playing into that debate: whether Trump could mount another run for the White House in 2024.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime ally of the president’s, was among several Republicans who said Sunday they support a second impeachment, a double black mark that has never befallen a president. Trump was impeached in 2019 for allegedly soliciting Ukraine’s interference in the 2020 election. He was acquitted in the Senate.
“What we had was an incitement to riot at the United States Capitol. We had people killed,” Christie said on ABC’s “This Week. “To me, there’s not a whole lot of question here. … If inciting to insurrection isn’t [impeachable], then I don’t really know what it is.”
Toomey followed the lead of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who on Friday became the first Republican senator to call on Trump to resign, though Toomey said Sunday he doesn’t think it will happen. Toomey raised the prospect that Trump could face criminal charges for his role in whipping up his supporters.
“I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a prosecutor,” he said. “But there should be accountability.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. said Friday on “CBS This Morning” that if the House advanced impeachment articles, “I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move” because he believed Trump disregarded his oath of office.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, predicted Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that lawmakers could vote as soon as Tuesday to impeach Trump. He told USA TODAY over the weekend that Democrats should act, regardless of what Senate Republicans decide to do with a trial.
“If they don’t convict him, that’s on them, but I think it would be on us if we did not impeach him,” Clyburn said. “I don’t care if it’s one hour left, let’s impeach him.”
Fifty-six percent of Americans say Trump should be removed from office before his term ends, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll Sunday. A higher figure, about two-thirds, blame the commander in chief for the riots that left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.
The short fuse for lawmakers to respond to Trump’s actions could put a wrinkle in Biden’s plans. The incoming president, who ran in part on the idea of healing a divided nation, sidestepped questions Friday about whether he supports impeachment. Biden did urge Congress to clear its decks for what he described as an ambitious early agenda to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and quickly install his Cabinet.
“What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” he said. “But I’m going to have to, and they’re gong to have to be ready to hit the ground running.”
Clyburn raised the idea Sunday that the House could act quickly to impeach Trump, then hold off on sending the articles to the Senate for its trial – possibly waiting for months so Biden could work through the first 100 days of his administration. Such a delay would land a trial in the hands of the new Senate Democratic majority.
White House officials did not respond to a request for comment, and Trump kept out of sight over the weekend. The White House referred to a statement from spokesman Judd Deere who argued Friday that a “politically motivated impeachment” would “only serve to further divide our great country.”
That was among the leading arguments against impeachment coming from Trump’s supporters Sunday – along with the dwindling number of days left in the president’s term. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a longtime Trump ally, questioned why Democrats were zooming ahead with an impeachment instead of preparing for Biden’s agenda.
“I do not see how that unifies the country,” Jordan told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Sunday that Trump’s actions leading up to the riot were “clearly reckless,” but he told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he did not support Congress taking action given how few days the president has in office.
“We should be thinking more about the first day of the next presidency than the last day of his presidency, in my view,” he said.
Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry, Kim Hjelmgaard