Defiant Trump says impeachment causing 'tremendous anger'

Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House on Jan 12, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump emerged from isolation at the White House on Tuesday (Jan 12) to deny responsibility for a mob of his supporters storming Congress, and warning that his imminent impeachment is causing "tremendous anger."

Trump - set on Wednesday to become the first president in US history impeached for a second time - made clear he takes no blame for the Jan 6 speech in which he urged supporters to march on Congress.

"They've analysed my speech in my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody to the tee just thought it was totally appropriate," Trump said before flying to Texas.

Trump called his scheduled impeachment in the House of Representatives on Wednesday a "continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics."

And he warned that while "you have to always avoid violence," his supporters are furious.

"I've never seen such anger as I've seen right now," he said.

With only eight days left in his one-term administration, Trump finds himself alone, shunned by former supporters, barred by social media, and now facing the unprecedented stain of a second impeachment.

No longer able to use Twitter and Facebook - two platforms integral to his shock rise to power in 2016 - Trump is for the first time struggling to shape the news message, a censoring by Big Tech that he called a "catastrophic mistake."

His trip to Alamo, Texas, where he will tout claims of success in building a US-Mexican border wall, is his first live public appearance since last week's chaotic events. This is not the same Alamo as the famous fortress in another part of Texas, but the trip still marks something of a last stand.

Ever since the Nov 3 election, the Republican real estate tycoon has been obsessively pushing a lie that he, not Democrat Joe Biden, was the real winner.

Then, last week, in a speech on the National Mall, he called on the huge crowd to go to Congress and "show strength."

Amped up on Trump's rhetoric, the mob burst into Congress, fighting with police, trashing offices and forcing frightened lawmakers to suspend briefly a ceremony legally formalising Biden's victory.

The crisis galvanised many of Trump's former boosters in the corporate and sporting world to turn their backs.

In the Republican party, which has been in thrall to the populist leader for four years, even ultra-loyal senior figures like Senator Lindsey Graham have finally told Trump that he must accept election defeat.

Trump, however, clearly remains in denial. He has yet to congratulate Biden or urge his supporters to stand behind the incoming president after he is inaugurated on Jan 20 - a gesture of political unity considered all but routine after US elections.

And according to Axios, Trump and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, had a stormy phone conversation on Tuesday in which Trump continued to push his conspiracy theory that he was the true election winner.

McCarthy reportedly interrupted, telling him: "Stop it. It's over. The election is over."

Impeachment 2.0

The House of Representatives will vote on Tuesday on a longshot bid to get Vice-President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the US Constitution's 25th Amendment, which would declare Trump unfit to perform his duties and install Pence as acting president.

This is unlikely to happen. Although Pence is reportedly furious about Trump's behaviour last week, the two met at the White House on Monday for the first time since the Congress attack and had "a good conversation," according to a senior administration official.

That signalled that whatever Pence and the dwindling number of White House officials feel, they are committed to keeping the presidency limping along until Jan 20.

Still, with a string of Cabinet officials quitting the government - most recently the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Monday - it's also clear that Trump's grip on power is tenuous.

In an interview on Tuesday on ABC News, Health Secretary Alex Azar did not dismiss outright the option of removing Trump, saying: "I'm not going to get into or discuss the 25th Amendment here."

Democrats will follow up the 25th Amendment vote with impeachment proceedings in the House on Wednesday. The single charge of "incitement of insurrection" is all but sure to get majority support.

The Republican-controlled Senate, however, is in recess until Jan 19 and its leadership says there is no way to rush through an impeachment trial before Biden takes over the following day.

This means that Trump, who was acquitted in the Senate last year after his first impeachment, would not be forced out of office early.

Not even all Democrats are gunning wholeheartedly for a trial, worried that this would overshadow Biden's first days in office.

The new president will already face the challenges of an out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic, the stumbling vaccination programme, a shaky economy, and now the aftermath of violent political opposition from parts of Trump's huge voter base.

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