WASHINGTON (NPR): One week after a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol, threatened lawmakers and forced evacuations, members returned to the House floor. What followed was an emotional, and often angry, debate about recrimination for the president who many argued incited the riot that resulted in five dead.
The House of Representatives approved one article of impeachment Wednesday against President Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in a 232-197 vote. The article now heads to the Senate, which is not expected to reconvene until next week.
Throngs of armed National Guard troops were positioned around the Capitol, and they lined the streets around buildings housing members’ offices and the area where Joe Biden will be sworn in next Wednesday.
There was a bipartisan standing ovation for members of the U.S. Capitol police, who undoubtedly saved members, aides and reporters from a far worse outcome. But Washington and the country are still reeling from the images of the attack. As more details emerge about how it was orchestrated and the severity of the threats, the political fallout is sure to continue.
Here are four ways the impeachment is already changing the political world:
1. President Trump makes history
President Trump has shattered norms since he rode the golden escalator down to his presidential campaign announcement in 2015. Now he has a distinction in the history books that no president wants — the first to be impeached twice. He also is the president who has had the most members of his own party vote for impeachment.
The president’s strong support among congressional Republicans during his 2019 impeachment had all House GOP lawmakers opposing the articles of impeachment. Those articles charged that the president urged a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election to his benefit. Just one Senate Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted that he was guilty of one article of abuse of power.
2. The cracks of the Republican Party are out in the open, growing larger in real time
There are no signs the president’s base is abandoning him, but the split among congressional Republicans about the future of the party is accelerating after the events of last week, and it’s happening in real time.
Now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made it clear that no trial will take place until after Trump leaves office, the Senate vote is now about whether Trump will be able to run for office again. There is some legal debate about whether it is binding, but how Senate Republicans approach it will say a lot about their call on who should lead the party going forward.
The trial will be essentially a proxy vote for where lawmakers sit on the GOP spectrum — as a loyal supporter of a president who has earned broad bipartisan condemnation for his role in urging far right extremists to resort to violence, or as a more establishment member who may want to revive the party’s conservative approach to fiscal issues and muscular national defense posture.
McConnell, who hasn’t talked to Trump, told his colleagues he is not ruling out voting to convict the president. A week ago, no one could contemplate that there would even be a question.
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who is up for reelection in the 2022 midterms, signaled he too was open to rebuking the president. “If the Senate proceeds with an impeachment trial, I will do my duty as a juror and listen to the cases presented by both sides,” he said in a statement after the House vote.
Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger told NPR he thinks “there’s a pretty significant chance that the Senate does vote to remove President Trump.” He said the number of senators who planned to formally object to the Electoral College results dwindled after the attacks and said, “I think every day that goes by, there’s going to be people regretting their ‘no’ vote as more information comes out.”
Those who broke with the president are well aware they could become isolated. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican leader, was one of the 10 who backed impeachment. She never spoke on the House floor and made it known she thought it was a vote of conscience, but her vote could potentially cost her her spot at the leadership table.
The spotlight now shifts to those senators who may want to mount a bid for the White House in 2024 — Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have picked the lane of the champions of the Trump base. Others such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who opposed the effort to challenge the electoral votes on Jan. 6, could be picking up the mantle of the conservative establishment.
3. President-elect Biden’s agenda gets complicated
Even before Wednesday’s vote, Biden’s allies openly worried about what starting the impeachment train moving would mean for the incoming president’s ability to secure Senate confirmation for his Cabinet nominees and press for top priorities like coronavirus relief. Now that reality is setting in, and the trial will likely commence shortly after Biden takes office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has appointed impeachment managers, and articles are expected to be delivered to the Senate soon, potentially before it even is back in session on Jan. 19.
It’s unclear who will defend the president. NPR’s Tamara Keith reports three of the attorneys who worked on the team the last time — Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and Marty Raskin — would not be part of a trial this time. But who the president selects could set the tone.
Biden has said he is consulting with senators and the parliamentarian about simultaneously moving forward with a trial and still holding hearings and votes on his top agency heads, but the nonstop news about the insurrection is keeping it on the front pages and the lead story on most newscasts.
“Impeachment now is like a primal scream,” Tennessee Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper said. But he said the “main goal” for Democrats should be to get the two new Georgia Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — sworn in and both chambers getting to work to help make the new administration successful. He said the Senate can “walk and chew gum” at the same time.
4. The U.S. Capitol has been forever changed by Jan. 6
The images of magnetometers stationed around the House chamber, National Guard troops napping on marble floors coddling their weapons, and remnants of broken windows make it apparent that things have dramatically changed in the building. The symbol for democracy used to be a frequent tourist attraction pre-pandemic for school groups learning about the country’s founders and history. Now, it has a new image of what can happen when political rhetoric ignites supporters to turn on their opponents.
The new security measures will likely remain for some time. Although members praised law enforcement, and there are amazing stories of those who fought off the mob, the serious security failures have many lawmakers questioning the leadership of the force, and an inevitable lengthy investigation could turn up far more disturbing information about what happened.
The lawmakers themselves have changed, too. Several Democrats accused GOP lawmakers during the impeachment debate of being “co-conspirators” and “accomplices” in the attack — a serious charge, but they did not provide evidence. It was already difficult for lawmakers to develop relationships across the aisle, with many members no longer moving their families to Washington. Members rarely socialized with members of another party. The level of trust has really changed in the past week. Some Democrats are already pledging not to work with Republicans who voted in favor of challenging the election results.
The swift series of events has given members little time to process how to return to legislative business. Three big events in three weeks — an insurrection on the day Congress met for what is usually a ceremonial task of counting electoral votes, followed by a lightning fast impeachment and an inauguration that will be scaled back to the health crisis — made the opening days of the new Congress historic in multiple ways.