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Following Capitol attack, impeachment winds have shifted quickly

As recently as this morning, the idea of impeaching Trump again appeared to be off the table. As the day progressed, however, the winds shifted quickly.
Image: Nancy Pelosi Chuck Schumer
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer hold a press conference on Capitol Hill on May 22, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

After Donald Trump's Raffensperger recording was released earlier this week, some raised the prospect of impeaching the president for soliciting election fraud. House Democratic leaders had a swift response: forget it.

At a House Democratic leadership news conference on Monday, 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."

About 48 hours later, Donald Trump dispatched a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol. Would that change the impeachment calculus? As of this morning, the answer was no: congressional leaders announced that the Republican-led Senate was adjourned until Jan. 19, while the Democratic-led House wouldn't return until after President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. In other words, impeachment was off the table -- because members of Congress wouldn't even be on Capitol Hill.

But as today progressed, the winds shifted direction quickly.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined presumptive Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to call on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office, after the president's incitement of a crowd of supporters that violently stormed the U.S. Capitol. Pelosi said if Pence does not act, then the House would consider impeachment to remove him from office.

In a written statement, Schumer said, "What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president. This president should not hold office one day longer. The quickest and most effective way - it can be done today - to remove this president from office would be for the vice president to immediately invoke the 25th amendment. If the vice president and the cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president."

Soon after, at a press conference, Pelosi said she joined Schumer "in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment."

And just days after rejecting the idea of "looking backward," Hakeem Jeffries added on Twitter this afternoon, "Donald Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from office immediately."

There are some lingering questions about Pelosi's position that could use some clarification. For example, we don't yet have a sense of the timeline: she'll consider impeachment if Pence and the cabinet don't act, but do they have a deadline? Similarly, why wait? The House could begin the impeachment proceedings now while Pence and cabinet members weigh their path forward.

With this in mind, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported this afternoon that some Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have begun "circulating drafts of new articles of impeachment directed at President Trump for his role in inciting the violent mob assault on the Capitol." Soon after, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted a pending draft of impeachment articles.

The relevant obstacles are obvious: even if the House were to act quickly and send articles to the Senate, are there 17 Senate Republicans who would vote to convict and remove Trump from office?

Stay tuned.

Postscript: It's admittedly not the most important angle, but during Trump's first impeachment, the GOP said it was a political/electoral scheme, not a matter of principle or the rule of law. Now, with Trump having already lost, that talking point is gone: this is obviously about the health of the republic, not scoring points.