After Donald Trump's violent mob was removed from the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers returned to work and completed the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden's victory. Vice President Mike Pence, ignoring the outgoing president's demands that he unilaterally overturn election results, affirmed Biden's win shortly before 4 a.m. eastern.
And just minutes later, the White House claimed for the first time that Trump is now committed to "an orderly transition" of power.
The striking reversal came hours after a violent mob of the president's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, and followed weeks of Trump and his allies fighting the election results. "Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th," Trump said, according to a statement attributed to him and released by the White House.
First, note that even now, after the outgoing president incited a riot targeting his own country's Capitol, he's still lying about "the facts." Second, it's worth emphasizing the phrasing from the NBC News report: it was a statement "attributed to" Trump.
In other words, this isn't what Trump said, so much as it's what the White House claims he said. In a normal administration, that distinction wouldn't be notable, but in this administration, the president and his White House team routinely contradict one another, and aides who claim to be speaking on Trump's behalf are often humiliated as the president negates their statements.
As of this minute, Americans are being asked to believe that Trump is prepared to accept an orderly transition to a new president in two weeks. If recent history is any guide, the Republican may very well say the opposite at any moment.
But just as important is the motivation behind the apparent statement. Trump's alleged commitment to an orderly transition comes amid growing talk of bringing his presidency to a premature end. As yesterday's crisis unfolded yesterday afternoon, more than a few Democrats were openly discussing options for removing the Republican from office before Biden's Inauguration Day, and Axios reported overnight that even some in the GOP are considering "drastic steps."
These measures include censure, impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment.... This talk is coming from current and former White House and GOP Hill aides, and Republican lobbyists and political consultants — all of whom have either embraced him or quietly tolerated him until now.
It's against this backdrop that Trump -- or White House officials claiming to share a quote from Trump -- has suddenly decided he's willing to accept defeat after all. Or put another way, it's a statement with a subtext that effectively says, "There's no need to remove me from office; I really am prepared to leave peaceably."
Part of the problem is that Trump lies uncontrollably. Another part of the problem is the quote might itself be at odds with the president's intentions.
But those are just the superficial concerns. More alarming is the fact that Trump's presidency, barring intervention, still has two weeks remaining, which is a dangerously long time for someone this unhinged. The longer officials agree to leave Trump in office, the longer the threat to the republic remains.
Finally, consequences matter. Accountability matters. The sitting American president, after years of thumping his chest about "law and order," incited a riot and dispatched a mob on the Capitol as part of a clumsy attempt at a coup. To let bygones be bygones for two weeks will not suffice.
After Trump's Raffensperger recording was released a few days ago, and some raised the prospect of impeaching the president for soliciting election fraud, House Democratic leaders balked. At a House Democratic leadership news conference, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was asked whether the chamber was prepared to act in response to the revelations, and he replied, "We're not looking backward, we're looking forward to the inauguration of Joe Biden on Jan. 20."
As yesterday's tragedy helped prove, the crisis is now. Failing to respond to such an attack on our system of government would be an invitation for additional attacks.