WASHINGTON - A majority of the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives on Wednesday (Jan 13) voted to advance legislation that would impeach President Donald Trump.
With voting continuing, the House was set to approve the rules for debating impeachment. This would clear the way for a second vote on charging the Republican president with inciting insurrection in a speech last week that led to rioting in the US Capitol.
The impeachment moves come after Vice-President Mike Pence rebuffed lawmakers' formal call for him to remove Mr Trump from office.
The vote is likely to pass, making it the second time Mr Trump will be impeached and the first time any US President has been impeached twice.
House Democrats have enough numbers on their own to impeach, but will be joined by a handful of Republicans who have declared they will break with the President - a marked difference from his first impeachment in January 2019 when no Republican voted to impeach.
Lawmakers started debating Mr Trump's impeachment at 9am EST (10pm Singapore time) and the House will vote on whether to impeach him at about 3pm EST (4am Singapore time), with the final result expected an hour later.
Last Wednesday’s assault on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob intent on overturning President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory sent shock waves through the nation, angering even members of Mr Trump’s own party, although many Republicans remain loyal to the man who commands the support of much of their base.
On Tuesday evening, Mr Pence rejected a House resolution urging him to convene the Cabinet to “declare that the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office”, using his powers under the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution.
The resolution passed with 223 votes to 205, largely along party lines. Only one Republican voted in favour of it.
But Mr Pence said he did not believe the move would be in the best interest of the nation or be consistent with the US Constitution.
“Last week, I did not yield to pressure to exert power beyond my constitutional authority to determine the outcome of the election,” said Mr Pence, referring to pressure from Mr Trump and his supporters to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s win when he presided over Congress’ session to certify the victory.
“I will not now yield to efforts in the House of Representatives to play political games at a time so serious in the life of our nation,” Mr Pence said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, released just ahead of the House’s vote.
He argued that the 25th Amendment was designed for situations of presidential incapacitation or disability.
“Under our Constitution, the 25th Amendment is not a means of punishment or usurpation. Invoking the 25th Amendment in such a manner would set a terrible precedent,” said Mr Pence.
The House resolution amounted to an ultimatum, as Democrats promised that if Mr Pence does not intervene, they will move ahead with a vote on Wednesday to charge Mr Trump with inciting an insurrection.
Republican opposition to the Democrats’ bid to impeach Mr Trump appears more muted this time.
Five Republican Congressmen have now declared that they will vote to impeach Mr Trump, the most senior among them being Wyoming lawmaker Liz Cheney, the third-highest ranking Republican in the House.
“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 public statement on Tuesday.
“The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” Ms Cheney added.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell believes Mr Trump committed impeachable offences and is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Mr McConnell reportedly believes Mr Trump’s impeachment will make it easier to purge him from the party.
Ms Cheney’s statement - and Mr McConnell’s stance - could encourage other Republicans on the fence or fearful of political blowback to vote to impeach Mr Trump.
The New York Times also reported that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, while remaining opposed to the impeachment effort, decided not to formally lobby Republican congressmen to vote against impeachment.
The House’s expected impeachment vote on Wednesday paves the way for an impeachment trial in the Senate, although the timing for that remains up in the air.