WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (Reuters) — Congressional Democrats began a push on Monday to force U.S. President Donald Trump from office, introducing an article of impeachment that accuses him of inciting insurrection in connection with the violent attack on the Capitol last week.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives could vote on impeachment as early as Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters. Passage would make Trump, a Republican, the only U.S. president ever to be impeached twice.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the seat of Congress last week, forcing lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's election victory into hiding in a harrowing assault on the heart of American democracy that left five dead.
The violence came after Trump urged supporters to march on the Capitol at a rally where he repeated false claims that his resounding defeat in the Nov. 3 election was illegitimate. Many House Democrats and a handful of Republicans say Trump should not be trusted to serve out his term, which ends on Jan. 20.
"We have a president most of us believe participated in encouraging an insurrection and an attack on this building and on democracy and trying to subvert the counting of the presidential ballot," Hoyer told reporters.
As the House convened on Monday, Republicans blocked an effort to immediately consider a resolution asking Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the U.S. Constitution's never-used 25th Amendment to remove an unfit president.
"The U.S. House must never adopt a resolution that demands the removal of a duly elected president, without any hearings, debate or recorded votes," said Republican Representative Alex Mooney, who raised the objection.
The House still could vote as early as Tuesday on the resolution for use of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and the Cabinet to remove a president who is incapable of fulfilling his duties.
Pence and his fellow Republicans have shown little interest in invoking the amendment, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have tried to ramp up the pressure on them to act against Trump. They called on Pence to respond within 24 hours after passage of the resolution.
"As our next step, we will move forward with bringing impeachment legislation to the floor. The president’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action," Pelosi said in a statement.
Dozens of people who attacked police officers, stole computers and smashed windows during the rampage at the Capitol have been arrested for their role in the violence, and officials have opened 25 domestic terrorism investigations.
Trump acknowledged a new administration would take office on Jan. 20 in a video statement after the attack but has not appeared in public. Twitter and Facebook have suspended his accounts, citing the risk of him inciting violence.
Representative Jim McGovern, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said he expected the impeachment article would pass the House.
"What this president did is unconscionable, and he needs to be held to account," McGovern told CNN.
The lawmakers who drafted the impeachment charge say they have locked in the support of at least 214 of the chamber's 222 Democrats, indicating strong odds of passage. Biden has so far not weighed in on impeachment, saying it is a matter for Congress.
Pence was in the Capitol along with his family when Trump's supporters attacked, and he and Trump are currently not on speaking terms. Pence's office did not respond to questions about using the 25th Amendment to oust Trump. A source said last week he was opposed to the idea.
House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate voted not to convict him.
Even if the House impeaches Trump again, the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans, would not take up the charges until Jan. 19 at the earliest, Trump's last full day in office.
Democrats' latest effort to force out Trump also faces long odds of success without bipartisan support. It requires a two-thirds majority to convict and remove Trump in the 100-member Senate, where Republicans will have a slim majority until the winners of the recent Georgia runoff races are seated and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in. Harris would be the tie-breaking vote in the chamber.
So far, only four Republican lawmakers have said publicly that Trump should not serve out the remaining nine days in his term.
An impeachment trial would tie up the Senate during Biden's first weeks in office, preventing the new president from installing Cabinet secretaries and acting on priorities like coronavirus relief.
Representative Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, has suggested his chamber could avoid that problem by waiting several months to send the impeachment charge over to the Senate.
Trump would be long gone by then, but a conviction could lead to him being barred from running for president again in 2024. The votes also would force Trump's Republicans to again defend his behavior.
Washington remains on high alert ahead of Biden's inauguration. The event traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city, but has been scaled back dramatically because of the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lisa Lambert, Andy Sullivan, Patricia Zengerle, Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone and Paul Simao)