Impeachment Won't Be Nearly as Divisive as That Insurrection They Just Attempted

Jack Holmes
·6-min read
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images

From Esquire

"No terms except an unconditional surrender can be accepted," Ulysses S. Grant told Confederate General Simon B. Buckner in 1854. "I propose to move immediately upon your works." So it must be with the insurrectionists of 2021, who even brought a Confederate flag into the Capitol. President-elect Joe Biden can talk all he wants about unity and healing the nation, but the United States Congress must institute decisive consequences for those who participated in, or aided and abetted, the attack on the national legislature last week. Otherwise, there is more of this coming. "Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January," according to an FBI bulletin obtained by ABC News, "and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January." One group is calling for "storming" state and federal buildings if Donald Trump is removed from office.

But the only solution is to remove him immediately. No terms except his unconditional surrender can be accepted. As JustSecurity laid out in a timeline Monday, the president's speech to the mob before it marched on the Capitol last week was merely the culmination of a year's worth of escalating rhetoric that served to incite this kind of event. On the day, he told the insurrectionists that he loved them. There was a brief period where the president's allies attempted to blame ANTIFA! for the Capitol riot, but they've already given that up and mostly alternated between complaining about his Twitter ban and suggesting his impeachment will be "divisive." Not nearly as divisive as what happened on Wednesday, or what appear to be a rolling series of similar events that his most enthusiastic fans have planned. His conduct must be met with consequences. In addition to impeachment and removal, Congress could move to ban him from holding public office for life.

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Incredibly, though, Assistant House Speaker Kathy Clark could be found on Friday suggesting that House Democrats would wait until halfway through this week to bring articles of impeachment against the president. "Every day that Donald Trump is President of the United States is a day of grave danger," she said, so they resolved to wait a few days to do anything. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others seemed to signal they wanted Vice President Mike Pence to initiate use of the 25th Amendment to get Trump out of power, and publicized that she'd talked with people in the military chain of command about what safeguards were in place to prevent the president, say, launching a nuclear strike. James Clyburn, the third most powerful Democrat in the House, made noise about waiting 100 days(!) into Biden's term to do anything. But this was all mumbling, avoiding the basic requirement of the moment: impeach the president, and force Senate Republicans to go on the record about whether they support his incitement to insurrection. On Monday, Rep. David Cicilline introduced the article of impeachment before noon, but House Number Two Steny Hoyer said the articles would not be taken up in earnest until Wednesday. On Monday, Pelosi sought unanimous consent for a resolution urging—but not ordering—Mike Pence to initiate the 25th Amendment that was doomed to fail from the start. On Tuesday, they'll vote again on the resolution.

The articles should pass the House, at which point they will go to the Senate for Donald Trump's second impeachment trial. On the merits, his guilt is not really in question: he clearly and deliberately incited the mob to disrupt a session of Congress set to rubber-stamp his removal from power. He has committed crimes against the American republic and poses a continuing threat to national security and domestic tranquility. It's still unclear what role the Executive Branch played, if any, in the slow response from the security apparatus to Wednesday's attack, a major concern considering Trump purged the senior leadership at the Department of Defense after the election he lost. Now they've announced the acting Secretary of Homeland Security is leaving. I wonder what the criteria is for choosing his replacement? The president will never stop because he can't afford to. But that doesn't mean the same cowards who acquitted him the last time won't do so again. After all, nobody much disputed that he'd abused his powers in that case, either.

But there's the added wrinkle this round that various Republican members of Congress were accomplices in the incitement to insurrection. It's not just that they fanned the flames of the election-fraud conspiracies from November to now. 147 Republicans voted to dispute the simple fact that Joe Biden won the election and Donald Trump lost even after the very chamber they sat in had been attacked by a mob chanting for blood. What to do with these people is a complicated question. Certainly, the ringleaders in the Senate, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, should be expelled from the chamber, even if it feels unlikely at this point. They should at least be stripped of all committee assignments and censured. Mo Brooks and Matt Gaetz should really be forced to resign from the House, having performed a similar function in the lower chamber. And then there's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who should at least be thrown out of the leadership, but probably out of Congress altogether, too.

Photo credit: Tasos Katopodis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tasos Katopodis - Getty Images

There have been calls for Pelosi to refuse to seat the rest of the rank-and-file Republican vandals, but it's not clear how feasible that is. There's talk some Democrats will simply refuse to engage or work with them, which would hardly be a productive exercise anyway. It's gone well beyond the bullshit about trickle-down economics. Some of these folks have flirted with conspiracies which hold that Democrats are members of a Satanic pedophile cabal. Hard to see much bipartisan compromise happening there. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the number three Democrat, Patty Murray, has called on Cruz and Hawley to resign. Sheldon Whitehouse has called for the Senate Ethics Committee to consider "the expulsion, or censure and punishment, of Senators Cruz, Hawley, and perhaps others."

And then, of course, there are the foot soldiers. It goes without saying that anyone who physically participated in sacking the national legislature to prevent the body from confirming that the president would soon leave office should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Five people are dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and another officer has died by suicide in the aftermath. While some of the attackers were clowns and simpletons misled by the powerful, some, like those carrying zip-ties, increasingly appear to have stormed the building with highly specific intent. And in the end, it doesn't really matter whether some of these guys were in on the joke or not. Even the QAnon Shaman will, if found guilty by a jury of his peers, need to see the inside of a jail cell. Any other outcome is a message that this lawlessness—attempting to seize power by force in contravention of the will of the majority—is a feasible path forward for the movement Donald Trump has unleashed on this land.

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