WASHINGTON - Democrats started legal proceedings on Monday (Jan 11) in their bid to remove US President Donald Trump from office, seeking to pass a resolution by unanimous consent calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to act to remove Mr Trump.
The resolution was swiftly blocked by Republican lawmakers, but the House will vote on and pass the resolution on Tuesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed that Democrats will proceed with impeachment legislation if Mr Pence does not respond within 24 hours.
This comes in the wake of last week’s attack on the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid out her strategy in a letter to Democrats on Sunday, telling them that the Democrat-controlled House will first issue an ultimatum to Vice-President Mike Pence to use his constitutional power to force Mr Trump out of office.
Mr Pence can do so by invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows him and the Cabinet to remove the President by declaring him unfit to exercise the duties of his office, but US media outlets have reported that he is unlikely to.
Ms Pelosi vowed to act with urgency to protect the Constitution and America’s democracy, calling Mr Trump “an imminent threat” to both.
“As the days go by, the horror of this ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this President is intensified and so is the immediate need for action,” she wrote in the letter.
Last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol left five dead, including one police officer. Another policeman died later by suicide.
The assault, which happened as Congress was in the middle of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, is being called an attack on America’s democracy by both Democrats and Republicans.
More vocal critics accuse Mr Trump of inciting the attack by falsely telling his supporters that the election was rigged against him.
House Democrats will first seek to pass a resolution, by unanimous consent, that calls on Mr Pence to act.
If a lawmaker objects to the resolution - and some Republicans are likely to do so - the House will vote on and pass the resolution on Tuesday.
The Democrats are gathering the numbers they need to impeach Mr Trump, and are likely to succeed.
Democrat congressman David Cicilline said on Twitter that the article of impeachment drafted by him and other lawmakers had 210 co-sponsors as at Sunday night, close to a simple majority of the House’s 435 members.
What happens next is murkier. House majority whip James Clyburn told television networks in an interview on Sunday that they may wait until after Mr Trump’s term ends on Jan 20 to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Mr Clyburn, the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House, told CNN. “And maybe we will send the articles sometime after that.”
The Senate will decide whether to convict Mr Trump or acquit him of the charges of impeachment. Mr Trump is unlikely to be convicted by the Senate, as this requires a supermajority.
If they do however vote to convict him, they can also vote separately on whether to disqualify him from running for public office, a penalty that requires only a simple majority to pass.
Although many Republicans have criticised Mr Trump’s role in the Capitol assault, they have also criticised impeachment as being too divisive.
Some however have signalled they could be on board. Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said that Mr Trump should resign, telling NBC on Sunday: “The best way for our country is for the President to resign and go away, as soon as possible.”
But Mr Toomey said this might not be likely.
“It does not look like there is the will or consensus to exercise the 25th Amendment option, and I don’t think there’s time to do an impeachment. There’s 10 days left before the President leaves anyway,” he said.