Politics and Government

House votes to impeach Trump; Senate trial unlikely before Biden's inauguration

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., raps her gavel
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., raps her gavel after the House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time in little over a year in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday in Washington, D.C. The House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump on the charge of "incitement of insurrection" after a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Updated: 7:15 p.m.

The House of Representatives has impeached President Trump for the second time in 13 months — making him the only president to have received the rebuke twice. Despite the historic nature of a twice-impeached, one-term president, it is extremely unlikely that Trump will be removed from office through impeachment, as the Senate will not reconvene until Jan. 19 — the day before President-elect Joe Biden is to be inaugurated.

During the last House vote, in December 2019, all Republicans opposed the move, arguing that the effort was politically driven. But on Wednesday, 10 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in pointing the finger at the president for using rhetoric that helped spark the violent insurrection at the Capitol a week ago that left at least five dead.

In total, 222 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted to impeach the president.

The next step in the process is transmitting the article of impeachment to the Senate, then preparation for a Senate trial. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not consent to bringing the Senate back earlier than next Tuesday.

"I believe it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden Administration," McConnell said in a statement.

"I am grateful to the offices and institutions within the Capitol that are working around the clock, alongside federal and local law enforcement, to prepare for a safe and successful inauguration at the Capitol next Wednesday."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., presides over the House
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., presides over the House of Representatives as they conclude the vote to impeach President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C, on Thursday.
Saul Loeb | AFP via Getty Images

That tight timeline makes it nearly impossible for the Senate to convict and remove Trump from office before the president-elect is sworn in. Regardless, a Senate trial is expected.

The impeachment resolution on the House floor Wednesday, which passed 232-197, consisted of an article citing "incitement of insurrection."

The resolution states: "President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. 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."

The House Judiciary Committee released a report Tuesday evening that lays out the events of the stunning siege at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the argument that the president poses an "imminent threat" and that "his continued presence in office is a clear and present danger to the United States."

It concludes: "The facts establish that he is unfit to remain in office a single day longer, and warrant the immediate impeachment of President Trump."

Trump on Tuesday criticized the effort to impeach him for a second time, defending the speech he made to his supporters last week, in which he urged them to go to the Capitol, where Congress was certifying that Biden had won the presidential election. A violent mob then stormed the building, forcing Vice President Pence, lawmakers and staff to seek shelter.

The president, pressed by reporters traveling with him on a trip to Alamo, Texas, about what his role and responsibility were for the violence, insisted he was not to blame.

"They've analyzed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody to the T thought it was totally appropriate," Trump said. But his speech has been condemned widely, both by Democrats and some Republicans, for setting off the riot.

Speaking on the House floor, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said it’s only the latest transgression in Trump’s presidency.

“For years, we have been asked to turn a blind eye to the criminality, corruption and blatant disregard for the rule of law by the tyrant president we have in the White House,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “We as a nation can no longer look away.”

Four DFL members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation lined up behind the impeachment while all four Republican members voted against it.

How it happened and what's next

The House debate and vote

The House convened at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday. After some housekeeping, followed by debate and a vote on the rules, members began two hours of debate on the resolution itself, divided equally between Republicans and Democrats.

A lawmaker from each party managed the debate, calling on members to speak and designating a set amount for each speech. (Read the opening statements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan here.)

Republican split

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House GOP leader, announced Tuesday she would vote yes, with a scathing statement blaming Trump directly for the riot.

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney said.

A series of other Republican supporters of impeachment followed.

Last week, a majority of the House GOP caucus backed up the president and voted for objections to two states' electoral results — just hours after the attack. But as details emerge about how pro-Trump extremists arrested in recent days have cited the president as inspiring their actions, the number of Republicans willing to rebuke him is expected to grow. So far the number announcing they will vote yes is in the single digits.

Vote amid pandemic and new security and rules

After last week's attack, the top security official in the House is now requiring all lawmakers and staff to be screened before they enter the House chamber. Magnetometers are set up at the main entrances, and some Republican members complained about them or walked around them onto the floor Tuesday evening, disregarding the new security measures.

Members were reminded that House guidelines require any members with licensed firearms to restrict them to their offices. New fines were instituted for those who decline to wear masks.

Votes, which typically last 15 minutes, are now extended because social distancing guidelines require lawmakers to vote in staggered groups to cut down on too many people congregating on the floor.

Senate trial timing

It's unclear how quickly Pelosi will transmit the impeachment resolution to the Senate. On Wednesday, McConnell confirmed that he would not consent to reconvening the Senate early for a trial — a possibility that incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been exploring. Without agreement between McConnell and Schumer, the expected impeachment trial will almost certainly begin after Trump leaves office.

Pelosi announced a group of nine Democrats who will serve as impeachment managers during the Senate trial. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland will be lead manager; he worked as a constitutional professor before running for Congress. The other eight have legal backgrounds: Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Eric Swalwell of California, Ted Lieu of California, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, as well as Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It's unclear who will lead the debate for the Republicans since the GOP leadership is split on impeachment. But strong Trump allies like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a QAnon follower, were among those defending the president's actions during Tuesday's debate on the resolution about invoking the 25th Amendment against Trump.

Biden allies have openly worried that starting out his term with an impeachment trial would hamper the new administration from getting its early priorities through Congress, like another coronavirus relief package. For his part, Biden said he is consulting with senators and the parliamentarian about setting up a schedule that would devote half of the day to the impeachment trial and half to confirming his Cabinet nominees and considering legislation.

Once the elections of the two Democrats who won the Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia are certified and sworn in, Democrats will gain control of the Senate, as the chamber will be evenly split 50-50, with the incoming vice president, Kamala Harris, breaking the tie to give her party the majority. Leaders will have to draft an impeachment resolution to set the rules for how a trial would work.

Here’s how Minnesota members of Congress voted on the impeachment

The article of impeachment, set forth in House Resolution 24, states:

  • "prior to the joint session of Congress held on January 6, 2021, to count the votes of the electoral college, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were fraudulent and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by state or federal officials;

  • "shortly before the joint session commenced, President Trump reiterated false claims to a crowd near the White House and willfully made statements to the crowd that encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol;

  • "members of the crowd, incited by President Trump, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol and engaged in other violent, destructive, and seditious acts, including the killing of a law enforcement officer;

  • "President Trump's conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the presidential election, which included a threatening phone call to the Secretary of State of Georgia on January 2, 2021;

  • "President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government, threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government; and

  • "by such conduct, President Trump warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold U.S. office."

NPR White House editor Roberta Rampton contributed to this story

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.