Donald Trump’s fiery speech at a rally just before the attack on the Capitol is at the center of the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread for months about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.
Here’s what to watch in the attempt to impeach Trump for the second time in 13 months – now with just days left in the defeated president’s term:
The Democratic case for impeachment
Trump faces a single charge – “incitement of insurrection” – after the deadly Capitol riot in an impeachment resolution that the House began debating on Wednesday. It’s a stunning end for Trump’s presidency as Democrats and a growing number of Republicans declare he is unfit for office and could yet do more damage after inciting a mob that ransacked the Capitol.
“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government,” reads part of the four-page impeachment bill. “He will remain a threat to national security, democracy and the constitution if allowed to remain in office.”
The House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said impeachment was needed despite the limited number of days left in Trump’s term. “The president’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action,” she said.
Trump’s actions were personal for Pelosi and many other lawmakers. She was among those forced to huddle in a bunker during the Capitol riots, and armed rioters menaced staffers with taunts of “Where’s Nancy?”
The House of Representatives convened at 9am ET (2pm GMT), before an initial debate and some procedural votes. Then, after some hours of debate on the article of impeachment, the vote was set to begin at 3pm ET (8pm GMT) and expected to take up to an hour. But at that time on Wednesday, the vote had yet to begin. The next step of the process would then be for the articles of impeachment to be sent to the Senate.
How many Republicans support impeachment?
Unlike the last time Trump was impeached, when no House Republicans supported charges against Trump over a call he made to Ukraine’s new president, the current impeachment effort has drawn support from some Republicans.
Six Republicans are likely to vote to impeach Trump, including Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, the No 3 House Republican, John Katko, Republican of New York, and Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois.
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, and his deputy, the Louisiana representative Steve Scalise oppose dimpeachment.
McCarthy, one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, echoed Trump in declaring that “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together”.
Will the House censure Trump?
In a move short of impeachment, McCarthy and other Republicans floated the idea of a House censure of Trump, which would formally denounce his actions leading up to the riots last week. Although it was not clear how much support the proposal has, McCarthy said censure or some other mechanism – such as a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack – would “ensure that the events of January 6 are rightfully denounced and prevented from occurring in the future”.
Democrats aren’t buying it since censuring does not carry material punishment for the president.
When would articles of impeachment go to the Senate?
The Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell – who remains in charge of the Senate until Democrats take over, perhaps as early as 20 January – has said that the earliest the Senate could consider impeachment would be 19 January, the day before Trump leaves office and Joe Biden is inaugurated. Democratic leaders have been exploring how to recall the Senate earlier, though that would still require McConnell’s cooperation. It is therefore likely that any vote to convict Trump would take place after he has already left office, with a trial potentially taking place on 20 or 21 January. There is a suggestion, however, that the Democratic-controlled House might delay sending the articles to the Senate until after the Biden administration is established and his cabinet picks are confirmed by the Senate, so as not to provide a distraction to the start of his term in office. Biden has suggested the Senate split its time between impeachment and his agenda.
What would the Senate trial look like?
The first day includes the arrival of the supreme court chief justice and the swearing-in of the Senate. The second day is about setting rules of the trial. After that, a traditional trial would mean arguments on either side could extend into the first days of the Biden administration. There are also the options of a shortened trial with briefer presentations, or a half day at a time trial, which would allow the Senate to continue its other work during the transition.
How many votes are needed in the Senate to impeach Trump?
Impeachment needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which requires 67 votes. Following the Democrats’ two successes in the Georgia runoff elections, the new Senate will be delicately poised 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Kamala Harris holding the casting vote. That means that 17 Republican senators would need to vote to convict Trump. The outgoing president was acquitted easily on both counts in his previous impeachment trial with not a single Republican in the Senate finding him guilty.
Will any Republicans in the Senate vote to convict Trump this time?
Things might be different in 2021. For a start, the charge is much more simple and straightforward – that Trump is guilty of the incitement of an insurrection, rather than the complicated and murky dealings in Ukraine that were the subject of the first impeachment. So far five Republican representatives in the House have come forward to say they will vote for impeachment, but, as yet, no senators. It is difficult to imagine the hardliners like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley, who voted against Joe Biden’s election victory, now swinging behind an attempt to impeach Trump.
However, reports from both the New York Times and Axios suggest that those close to McConnell appear to believe that the majority leader thinks Trump has committed impeachable offences and may be minded to vote to convict in a Senate trial. If that was the case, it would make it easier for other Republicans to do so.
Who represents Trump in the trial?
None of the original lawyers who represented Trump in his first impeachment trial are expected to return. That could leave only Rudy Giuliani, part of Trump’s personal legal team, and Alan Dershowitz, who is supporting Trump on the grounds of free speech, according to Politico.
If Trump is found guilty, does that stop him from running for president again?
Not automatically. However, if convicted, the Senate could follow up with another vote to block him from running for office, requiring only a simple majority to pass. This vote would invoke the 14th amendment, which bars from federal or state office anyone who takes part in insurrection or rebellion. Adopted after the US civil war, the amendment states that nobody should hold office in the US if they have previously “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the US while an elected official.
Can the 14th amendment be used even if Trump is acquitted?
While it is certain to be disputed and subject to legal challenge, some experts believe that the 14th amendment could be used to bar Donald Trump from running for office again even if he is acquitted. Again, this would only require a simple majority vote in the Senate, which, under Democratic control, would be likely to pass.
How will Trump respond?
So far, Trump has taken no responsibility for his part in fomenting the violent insurrection, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praising them while they were still carrying out the assault. “People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” he said on Tuesday.
One significant difference from Trump’s first impeachment: he no longer has a Twitter feed to respond in real time.
In a sign of the increased tensions in the wake of the attack, House lawmakers will for the first time be required to go through a metal detector before being allowed to enter the chamber.
This new security measure will stay in effect every day the House is in session for the foreseeable future, according to a directive by Timothy Blodgett, the acting House sergeant-at-arms. Blodgett replaced the longtime sergeant-at-arms, who resigned after widespread criticism about poor security planning for the 6 January certification vote.
Blodgett also told lawmakers they must wear masks during the Covid-19 crisis and that they face removal from the chamber if they fail to do so.
Has this ever happened before?
Andrew Johnson was impeached within 10 days by a House committee in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act. But the Senate trial lasted much longer, and Johnson was acquitted by a single vote.
In 1834, lawmakers also moved to censure Andrew Jackson for withholding documents.
Will lawmakers rein in emotions on the floor?
While debate on the House is often impassioned, emotions have been unusually high as lawmakers debate impeachment. Not only is it the second time they have voted on such a measure, the debate comes exactly one week after a majority of House Republicans objected to the certification of Biden’s victory, setting the stage for the hours-long assault that rocked the Capitol and the nation.
A recent breakout of Covid-19 among lawmakers who were held in lockdown with others who refused to wear masks has only heightened tensions.