The Morning Dispatch: Impeached Again
Plus: Unpacking the internal GOP fight over whether and how to hold Trump accountable.
Happy Thursday! As of yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump is now the only cast member of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York to be impeached by the House of Representatives on two separate occasions.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The House impeached President Trump Wednesday in a 232-197 vote on charges of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week. All House Democrats—and 10 House Republicans, including Reps. Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer, Anthony Gonzalez, and Tom Rice—voted for the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the impeachment trial will begin next week at the earliest, saying “there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week.” McConnell added that he has “not made a final decision” on how he will vote in the trial.
President Trump issued a statement yesterday (which was also texted to campaign supporters) calling for calm leading up to and on Inauguration Day. “I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” he said. “This is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for.” He expanded upon this message in a pre-recorded video as well. “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in, and everything our movement stands for,” he said. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang formally announced last night that he is running for mayor of New York City.
President-elect Biden announced yesterday he plans to nominate former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Airbnb announced it is blocking and canceling all reservations in Washington D.C. next week in response to reports of “armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration.” The company will refund any guests whose reservations are affected, and reimburse hosts the money they would have earned.
Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is facing two charges of willful neglect of duty for his administration’s handling of the 2014 Flint water crisis that led to the death of 12 people. The Republican faces a maximum one-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine.
Operation Warp Speed chief Dr. Moncef Slaoui submitted his resignation at the request of the incoming Biden administration. He will stay on for 30 days through the transition.
Iran has begun the production of uranium metal—the material used at the core of nuclear warheads—according to a International Atomic Energy Agency report, upping tensions between Tehran and the incoming Biden administration days before inauguration.
The U.S. is imposing a ban on all cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang province in response to the Chinese government’s forced labor practices, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday.
The United States confirmed 232,725 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 13 percent of the 1,763,681 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 4,049 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 384,604. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 130,383 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 29,380,125 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 10,278,462 have been administered.
Trump Impeached Again
President Trump’s first impeachment was a glacial affair: His July 2019 “perfect conversation” with the president of Ukraine came to light in mid-September, but the House impeachment vote didn’t take place until three months later, with the intervening weeks occupied by fact-finding investigations and theatrical witness testimony hearings.
The second time around couldn’t have been more different. A week ago yesterday, supporters of the president gathered on the National Mall to hear him rail against the vote to certify Joe Biden’s election that Congress was about to take, then promptly marched down to the Capitol and ransacked it. On Monday, Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, introduced an article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” against the government. Yesterday, after a day of debate, the House voted 232-197 to impeach him. Democrats supported the measure unanimously, and ten Republicans broke ranks—sufficient to make it the most bipartisan impeachment vote in American history.
“Every moment that Donald Trump is in the White House, our nation—our freedom—is in danger,” Rep Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said early in the day. “The damage this building sustained can be repaired. But if we don’t hold Donald Trump accountable, the damage done to our nation could be irreversible.”
The reason for the speed is plain: In just a few short days, President Donald Trump isn’t going to be available to kick around anymore. Democrats argue they can do without a length fact-finding mission, because the basic facts are not in dispute. Unlike Trump’s impeachable offenses in 2019—which took place in private and needed to be sussed out in testimony—Trump’s incitement of the Capitol riot took place in full public view: Two months of destabilizing lies about the outcome of the election, repeated invitations to his supporters to gather in D.C. on the day of the vote, and his own fiery speech moments before the violence began.
But the brisk pace also provided a blueprint for Republicans to repeat their playbook from the first impeachment: Refocusing the conversation away from the substance of the president’s behavior to talk instead about process. In fact—other than the few predictable characters—very few Republicans defended Trump’s actions outlined in the article of impeachment at all.
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that even the White House itself was phoning it in: “The White House Counsel’s Office has not drawn up a plan for combating the impeachment effort, an administration official said, and its legislative affairs team is not contacting lawmakers.”
Rep. Tom Cole—who, as deputy minority whip and ranking member of the House Rules Committee, is high up in GOP leadership—did not mince words about the Capitol attack. “These shocking and sobering events rest high on our minds today, as well they should,” he said in his lengthy floor speech. “Certainly Jan. 6, 2021 will live in my memory as the darkest day during my time of service as a member of this House.”
The night before, during a Rules Committee meeting, Cole had gone even farther: “Yes, the president does bear some responsibility for what occurred. Certainly he will have to deal with the ramifications of Wednesday’s events for the rest of his life.”
Yet the Oklahoma Republican went on to argue that a too-swift impeachment would only divide the country further:
“In every modern impeachment inquiry, the president has been given the opportunity to be heard in some form or another. This is necessary in order to ensure that the American people have confidence in the procedures the House is following. It’s also necessary not because the president’s inappropriate and reckless words are deserving of defense, but because the presidency itself demands due process in the impeachment proceeding.”
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas conceded that there “very well may have been impeachable offenses committed leading up to, and on [Wednesday],” but added that impeaching a sitting president without hearing any witnesses would set a bad precedent. Still, he said, “I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate.”
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been under immense pressure from many GOP members to distance the conference from Trump, said the president bore responsibility for the attack, and even took time to push back on false right-wing media narratives about the event: “Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so.”
Ultimately, however, McCarthy argued “most Americans want neither inaction nor retribution,” and that the most prudent course of action would not be impeachment, but rather a “fact-finding commission and a censure resolution.”
McCarthy conditioned his comments on President Trump “accept[ing] his share of responsibility” for last week’s violence and “quell[ing] the brewing unrest.” While the former will almost assuredly never happen (at least in public), Trump did issue statements yesterday both in writing and on video unequivocally condemning last week’s violence and discouraging his supporters from engaging in any more political violence. Two of Trump’s White House lawyers, Pat Cipollone and Pat Philbin, were heavily involved in crafting the president’s language.
But Trump’s supposed new tone was too little, too late for the 10 House Republicans who etched their names into the history books yesterday: Reps. Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Tom Rice, Anthony Gonzalez, John Katko, Fred Upton, Dan Newhouse, and David Valadao.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, insinuated yesterday that there likely would have been more GOP defectors if the vote was anonymous. “The majority of [Republicans] are actually paralyzed with fear,” he said. “I had a lot of conversations with my Republican colleagues last night, and a couple of them broke down in tears, talking to me and saying that they are afraid for their lives if they vote for this impeachment.”
Those Republicans who did go through with it did not do so without first considering the concerns of their colleagues. “I have wrestled with the division this vote will cause,” Rep. Peter Meijer, the Michigan freshman who succeeded former Rep. Justin Amash, said in a statement. “I wrestled with the precedent it will establish and I have concerns with due process. I have wrestled with whether impeachment, an inherently political process, is a meaningful mechanism of accountability for the seriousness of the president’s actions.”
“But today, my job is to apply my best judgment to the article of impeachment that is on the floor of the U.S. Congress,” he continued. “With the facts at hand, I believe the article of impeachment to be accurate. The president betrayed his oath of office by seeking to undermine our constitutional process, and he bears responsibility for inciting the violent acts of insurrection last week.”
Others were even more scathing. “There is no doubt in my mind that the President of the United States broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection,” Kinzinger said. “In assessing the articles of impeachment brought before the House, I must consider: If these actions—the Article II branch inciting a deadly insurrection against the Article I branch—are not worthy of impeachment, then what is an impeachable offense?”
Kinzinger, of course, has long been a Trump critic within the party. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he’d hoped to make a detailed case for Trump’s impeachment but that the Democrats wouldn’t give him the time.
Other Republicans who voted to impeach had been staunch supporters of Trump. “I have backed this President through thick and thin for four years. I campaigned for him and voted for him twice,” said Rice, a relatively anonymous representative from South Carolina. “It has been a week since so many were injured, the United States Capitol was ransacked, and six people were killed, including two police officers. Yet, the President has not addressed the nation to ask for calm. He has not visited the injured and grieving. He has not offered condolences. Yesterday in a press briefing at the border, he said his comments were ‘perfectly appropriate.’”
The most forceful statement was also one of the earliest. “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Cheney said, announcing her vote on Tuesday night. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Given Cheney’s position in House leadership, and given the intense partisanship that drives so much of the GOP today, her vote in particular generated criticism from the GOP’s Trumpier wing. “I don’t think she should be the chair of the Republican conference anymore,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, leader of the House Freedom Caucus and one of three members named by alt-right provocateur Ali Alexander as a planning collaborator of the rally. “The reality is she’s not representing the conference; she’s not representing the Republican ideals.”
The Freedom Caucus, founded to promote limited government and reducing spending, has become in recent years little more than an enforcer of Trump loyalty, with two of its members—Mick Mulvaney and Mark Meadows—going on to serve as Trump’s chiefs of staff. So it was no surprise Biggs and other members of the Freedom Caucus began circulating a petition on Wednesday hoping to force a vote on a resolution calling on Cheney to resign from the post she was unanimously reelected to two months ago. Cheney, in response, made clear that she is “not going anywhere”—and other Republicans have her back.
“[Cheney] has a hell of a lot more backbone than most, & is a principled leader with a fierce intellect,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who condemned Trump’s behavior but did not vote to impeach. “She will continue to be a much needed leader in the conference, with my full support.”
Rep. Chip Roy—who said yesterday Trump engaged in “clearly impeachable conduct” but did not vote for the article given the way House Democrats framed it—added that “Liz should be commended, not condemned, for standing up in defense of the Constitution and standing true to her beliefs.”
Shortly after Trump was impeached, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated that the trial would not begin until January 19 at the earliest. “There is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” he said. “The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively. Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office.”
Axios and the New York Times reported on Tuesday that McConnell was “pleased” Democrats were impeaching Trump, and that he himself was leaning toward voting to convict the president. In a letter to his Republican colleagues on Wednesday, the Majority Leader said he remains undecided: “I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
Other Republicans are not waiting for the trial. “President Trump has eight days left in his term and has promised a smooth and peaceful transition of power,” Sen. Tim Scott said, before announcing, “I oppose impeaching President Trump.”
Sen. Tom Cotton concurred, as did Scott’s fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who criticized the impeachment process and took a thinly veiled shot at McConnell. “As to Senate leadership, I fear they are making the problem worse, not better.”
“Congress and the executive branch should concentrate entirely for the next week on conducting a safe and orderly transfer of power,” Cotton said. “After January 20, Congress should get on with the people’s business: improving our vaccination efforts, getting kids back to school, and getting workers back on the job.”
President-elect Biden wants to do both. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” he said in a statement last night.
To convict the president and/or bar him from holding office again, 17 Republicans would need to cross a president who—despite everything that’s happened in recent weeks—remains popular with the GOP’s hard core base. None of the aforementioned ‘nays’ were ever viewed as likely defectors, but they represent an inauspicious start for the effort.
Sen. Rob Portman—who almost assuredly would have to be part of any group of 17—said yesterday that he will “do [his] duty as a juror and listen to the cases presented by both sides.”
“President-Elect Biden has rightly said he wants to set a new tone of greater unity as his administration begins,” Portman continued, perhaps hinting at his leanings. “If the Senate conducts an impeachment trial, among my considerations will be what is best to help heal our country rather than deepen our divisions.”
Worth Your Time
American Enterprise Institute’s Matthew Continetti isn’t buying Mitch McConnell’s rationale for not beginning President Trump’s impeachment trial immediately. “There is no reason for delay. And there is no time to waste,” he writes for National Review. As incoming majority leader Chuck Schumer attempts to convene an emergency session—and McConnell objects—Continetti makes the case that it wouldn’t be difficult to convene Senators a week earlier than planned. Immediate conviction and removal would send a powerful message, thwart the president from holding federal office in the future, and avoid the question being tossed around by Trump’s defenders: Is it constitutional to convict someone whose term has ended?
The Washington Post has identified the Capitol Police officer who confronted violent rioters in the Capitol last week, luring them away from the Senate Chambers, as Eugene Goodman of Maryland—a committed public servant and decorated Army veteran. In a now-viral video, Goodman is shown baiting a mob of attackers—some of whom donned the Confederate flag—up a staircase and into a hallway with backup. According to law enforcement experts, his action likely prevented the mob’s violent confrontation with the Capitol police guarding the Chambers where lawmakers were barricaded. “It’s not unreasonable to say [the insurrectionists] were ready to take hostages,” former police officer Kirk Burkhalter said. “Officer Goodman really helped to avoid a tremendous tragedy.”
For two years, Gulbahar Haitiwaji underwent systematic brainwashing, torture, and forced sterilization at a Chinese re-education camp for Uighur women. After returning to her husband and children—whom she had been made to believe were terrorists and traitors—Haitiwaji shared her experience of life in the CCP’s concentration camps in this important, but difficult, read for The Guardian. “Women like me, who emerged from the camps, are no longer who we once were. We are shadows; our souls are dead,” she writes. “Wave after wave of propaganda crashed down upon me, and as the months went by, I began to lose part of my sanity. Bits of my soul shattered and broke off. I will never recover them.”
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Toeing the Company Line
Scott Lincicome’s Capitolism newsletter (🔒) this week focuses on populism’s incompatibility with serious governance. “Serious public policy, not to mention serious governing, requires acknowledging hard truths and complicated realities,” he writes, “not simply placating the emotional desires (or worse) of a disgruntled base. Populism—on the left and the right, to be clear—makes such seriousness increasingly unwelcome, as it reinforces the worst impulses of an ever-more-impulsive base. Advocates may think they’re being clever or strategic by ignoring the facts and catering to these forces (or they may very well be true believers themselves), but recent events show that they risk losing not only elections, but the electorate itself.”
In his Wednesday G-File (🔒), Jonah takes to task the series of arguments against impeaching and convicting President Trump that have cropped up in recent days. “As has happened over and over again for the last four years, Trump gets the Drunk Uncle Exemption from doing the right thing,” Jonah writes. “The people who want to hold him accountable or simply push him to do the right thing are always expected to turn the other cheek, turn a blind eye, or just bend over, because Trump is Trump.”
The Republican Party has a choice to make: Does it want leaders who bury their convictions for public political gain, or leaders who act on their conscience even at the risk of short-term political loss? Using Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney as examples of the two paths, Steve argues for the latter in a piece on the site. “I suspect in two years, in five years, in 10 years, the overwhelming majority of the country and even the majority of Republicans will look back on this moment and wonder how anyone could have voted against impeaching the president on substantive grounds,” he writes. “And the procedural arguments against doing so—there’s no time, the Senate isn’t in session, his presidency is almost finished—will feel even smaller than they feel today.”
Let Us Know
Thought experiment: Whatever your own personal opinion on impeachment is, try and make the best possible case for the opposite.
Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).