Most congressional Republicans aren’t fans of impeachment, but they signaled Tuesday that they are not particularly eager to defend President Trump’s actions last week.
Democrats took the first steps toward impeachment, releasing a report laying out their official case for trying to oust the president from office before the change of power next week. They were also barreling toward passage of a resolution urging Vice President Mike Pence to trigger the 25th Amendment and try to sideline the president immediately, which they said would obviate the need for impeachment.
They got a key backer Tuesday when Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said she would vote for impeachment because last week’s “insurrection” cannot be overlooked.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing,” she said in a statement.
The daughter of former Vice President Richard B. Cheney is one of at least four House Republicans saying they will back impeachment. Democrats said they expect others.
Many other Republicans, though, wished the entire matter would be put to rest and Mr. Trump could be ushered into forced retirement.
“President Trump has eight days left in his term and has promised a smooth and peaceful transition of power,” said Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican. “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation.”
The New York Times reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is “pleased” with impeachment. He sees it as a way to purge Mr. Trump from the Republican Party. The paper also reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, while opposing impeachment sought to orchestrate a censure of Mr. Trump.
Several Republicans introduced a censure resolution late Tuesday, saying it was the best way to hold the president accountable. They said the worst outcome would be an impeachment that leads to a second acquittal for Mr. Trump — he beat a first impeachment in a Senate trial last year — that leaves the country even more divided.
“Congress must make clear that it rejects extremism and condemns the president’s actions,” said Rep. Tom Reed, New York Democrat and one of the censure’s sponsors.
The House was meeting in full for the first time since the events of last Wednesday, and it quickly became clear that passions were still simmering over the election.
Republicans bristled at accusations that they helped foment the mob that assaulted the Capitol, while Democrats suggested Republicans are helping fuel further mayhem that law enforcement says is brewing around next week’s inauguration.
“You can do the country a great service if you just say the five words, ‘The election was not stolen,’” Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat and Rules Committee chairman, told Republicans. “Tweet that, instead of some of the other stuff that gets put on Twitter, because that was at the heart of what the angry mob was here for.”
He aimed his words at Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who said Democrats hastening to impeach Mr. Trump will do nothing to heal the divisions so starkly on display last week.
“Let’s be clear: Democrats have been wanting to remove the president since he won the election,” said Mr. Jordan, ticking off past attempts such as the Russia investigation, which fizzled out after the special counsel’s report found no conspiracy, and the previous impeachment effort, which began in 2019 after a phone call Mr. Trump made to Ukraine’s president.
Tuesday’s floor fight was over a nonbinding resolution calling on Mr. Pence to flex the 25th Amendment.
If he and a majority of the Cabinet decide the president is incapacitated, he can assume the powers of the top office. Mr. Trump, though, can contest that declaration and send the matter back to Congress, where it would take a two-thirds vote of both houses to force the change in power.
The resolution was expected to pass late Tuesday.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, Mr. Pence called the effort dangerous.
“I urge you and every other member of Congress to avoid actions that would further divide and inflame the passions of the moment,” he said.
He also said Mrs. Pelosi was violating her own standard of several months ago, when she said the 25th Amendment shouldn’t be used as a punishment for bad behavior, but for actual disability.
Mrs. Pelosi initially said she would give Mr. Pence 24 hours after passage of the resolution before pursuing impeachment, but she and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, brushed aside that promise and said they will take that step Wednesday.
It would be the most abbreviated impeachment of a president in history, with no hearings or a formal chance for Mr. Trump to defend himself.
Democrats did release an impeachment report Tuesday detailing the case against the president, pointing to his “prolonged effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.”
The report from the Judiciary Committee ties Mr. Trump’s speech last week to the Trump supporters’ attack on Congress an hour later, as it was counting the Electoral College votes that confirmed President-elect Joseph R. Biden as the winner of the election.
The report says Mr. Trump “directly incited” the assault that threatened the lives of Mr. Pence, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican — the line of succession for the presidency.
“It is indisputable that the president encouraged — and that his actions foreseeably resulted in — the terrorist attack that occurred,” the report charges.
Mr. Trump delivered his first substantive defense of his speech Tuesday.
“It’s been analyzed, and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” he told reporters.
Later, while touring the border wall in Texas, he blasted the entire set of proceedings against him.
“The impeachment hoax is a continuation of the greatest and most vicious witch hunt in the history of our country, and is causing tremendous anger and division and pain, far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time,” he said.
Mr. Trump isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
Democrats have said they will consider sanctions against House and Senate Republicans who spoke to the pro-Trump rally or led the objections to last week’s electoral count.
Mr. Jordan, during a committee hearing Tuesday, pointed out that Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat and the chief author of the 25th Amendment strategy, and Mr. McGovern had lodged objections to electoral votes Mr. Trump won in 2017.
That is the same process Republicans were trying to use last week to derail the certification of Mr. Biden.
“The double standard is a problem,” said Mr. Jordan, who a day earlier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Mr. Trump in a private White House ceremony.
Mr. McGovern said he didn’t mind Mr. Jordan and other Republicans challenging the election results, but he said they shouldn’t have based it on “the lie that was told to the American people.”