But Democrats are cognizant of the fact they have little time to force Trump out of office and moving forward with impeachment could force the Senate to hold an impeachment trial in the first days of the new Biden administration, which would amount to a major distraction from the new President’s ambitious new agenda.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus on a call Friday afternoon that she prefers Trump resigning or Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power. But she made clear that if that does not happen, impeachment is another option. There is more backing within the House Democratic caucus for impeaching Trump now than there was in 2019 when Trump was first impeached, Pelosi said, according to multiple sources on the call.
“The President chose to be an insurrectionist,” Pelosi said, according to one source said. “How we go forward is a subject for this caucus.”
Pelosi began the call solemn and emotional about the events that have transpired over the last 72 hours. She did not give a sense of timing or details on potential articles of impeachment, but she made clear the House has the power to impeach even with less than two weeks left in Trump’s term. Democrats also discussed the possibility of creating a commission to examine Trump’s fitness for office through the 25th Amendment, an option that could be used as an alternative to impeachment.
As Pelosi and her leadership team ran through their options Thursday night, the overwhelming sentiment was that impeachment was the way forward, according to multiple sources. While there were some dissenters concerned that the move could be perceived as an overreach and turn off Trump supporters in their districts, the view among most top Democrats — including Pelosi — is that Trump should be held accountable for his actions.
Pelosi to speak with Biden
One looming question is whether President-elect Joe Biden supports the House’s impeachment of Trump, as he’s pledged to try to unify the country when he takes office later this month. Asked about the House’s impeachment questions on Friday, Biden said “that is a judgment for Congress to make.”
Pelosi told her caucus she was planning to speak with Biden on Friday afternoon, according to two sources on the call.
An impeachment would force the Senate to consider the impeachment articles in a trial at the same time Biden was being sworn in and would need the Senate to confirm his Cabinet. Since Republicans are unlikely to hold a trial before January 20, Senate Democrats would be able to hold a trial afterward once they officially take the majority.
Some caution was expressed on the call about moving so quickly with an impeachment. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who led the impeachment probe in 2019, made clear to his caucus the realities of moving ahead with impeachment now and the potential pitfalls. His concern: the precedent of fast-tracking an impeachment and the perception that House Democrats were attempting to protect Biden by trying to prevent Trump from running again, according to multiple sources on call.
Schiff also noted that a Senate trial could be awkward for the Biden administration as the new President tries to unite the country and focus on the Covid-19 pandemic. A trial after Trump leaves, Schiff said, would present a messaging challenge, since Democrats are arguing now he is an imminent threat to the republic. But Schiff argued it would still be valid as a constitutional.
Still, Schiff said in a statement Friday he supports Trump’s removal from office.
“Every day that he remains in office, he is a danger to the Republic, and he should leave office immediately, through resignation, the 25th Amendment or impeachment,” Schiff said in the statement.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cautioned Democrats against moving forward with impeachment, and said he planned to speak to Biden about the matter on Friday.
“Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more,” the California Republican said in a statement. “I have reached out to President-elect Biden today and plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature and unite the country to solve America’s challenges.”
The White House urged the House not to move forward with impeachment in a statement Friday. “As President Trump said yesterday, this is a time for healing and unity as one Nation. A politically motivated impeachment against a President with 12 days remaining in his term will only serve to further divide our great country,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere said.
A different process from the previous impeachment
The process being proposed would not be anything like 2019. This would be fast: no investigations and no weeks-long hearings. The most likely scenario is that a member brings a privileged resolution to the House floor and offers it during session. A simple majority is enough to impeach the President, which would make Trump the first President to be impeached twice.
That would not mean he would be removed from office, which would require the Senate to vote to do so with a two-thirds majority.
House Judiciary Committee aides are consulting with the authors of the Democratic impeachment resolution — Reps. David Cicilline, Jamie Raskin and Ted Lieu — in order to prepare for moving quickly to a potential impeachment vote on the House floor next week, according to three sources.
The aides are helping to edit and fine-tune the impeachment resolution, the sources said, which includes an article of impeachment charge that Trump incited the insurrection at the Capitol. The draft impeachment resolution first unveiled Thursday also includes Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, though some moderate members are urging that impeachment should be kept as straightforward as possible in order to keep focus on Wednesday’s events.
Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, has also laid out another option short of impeachment: Congress could create a commission, a majority of which could then vote to remove Trump. If Pence consents, he would be removed. But he recognized that is unlikely to happen with the time left, and that Pence is unlikely to go along, though there was talk on the call about passing such a bill to create a commission to keep the pressure on Trump.
The draft impeachment resolution now has more than 130 co-sponsors, including Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, a further sign of growing momentum. Nadler said Thursday he supported bypassing his committee to move an impeachment resolution straight to the floor.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 in House leadership, told reporters on a call Friday he believes the House should impeach Trump. “He’s always wanting to do stuff that never been done before, there’s never going to present impeached twice before,” Clyburn said. “So let’s impeach him, give him what he wants.”
Dems would move quickly
Whatever the Democrats do, things are moving quickly. Members weren’t in this place two days ago. The events of Wednesday, the images that have played across television screens, the accounts of what happened throughout the Capitol complex and the President’s approach to all of it before and after have all culminated in members feeling like something has to happen now.
More than 60 Democrats, led by Reps. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, sent a letter to Democratic leaders Friday asking they reconvene and work to impeach Trump following Wednesday’s Capitol breach.
“We write to ask respectfully that the House reconvene immediately to reckon with the assault on our democracy that we experienced on January 6th,” the Democrats wrote. “We could take up the question of whether President Trump should be censured or impeached for encouraging a violent attack on the United States Congress, as well as Representative Raskin’s proposal that Congress appoint a body, as provided by the 25th Amendment, to determine whether the President is fit to discharge the powers and duties of his office.
House Republicans have so far rejected Democratic calls for impeachment. Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a district Biden won in 2020, told CNN that Trump on Thursday “committed to a peaceful transition of power” and noted that Biden’s inauguration is fast approaching.
“All this talk of impeachment and the 25th Amendment only exacerbates our divide and throws gas on the fire,” said Bacon. “We need less hyper-partisanship at the moment and stop efforts that will only divide the people of America even more.”
What would happen in the Senate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not spoken on the prospect of impeachment. But given that the House would likely pass this with just days left in Trump’s Presidency, it’s likely McConnell would just run out the clock.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, was the first Senate Republican to call for Trump’s resignation on Friday.
Sen. Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican who was an early critic of Trump’s election fraud rhetoric, told CBS Morning News he’d consider any articles of impeachment from the House.
“The House, if they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move because, as I’ve told you, I believe the President has disregarded his oath of office,” Sasse said Friday.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Dana Bash, Barbara Starr, Alex Rogers, Rachel Janfaza and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report.