WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers split along party lines late Tuesday as the House passed a resolution urging Vice President Mike Pence to remove President Trump from office – or face the threat of a second impeachment.
The 223-205 vote came a week after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a deadly attack that critics say the president incited, and just one week before Trump is scheduled to leave office and be replaced by President-elect Joe Biden.
The resolution called on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and “declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”
Under the 25th Amendment, if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet members determine that president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the vice president may assume the job of president.
But Pence told lawmakers in a letter Tuesday that he would not invoke the amendment, saying that doing so “would set a terrible precedent.”
Democrats said if Pence won’t act, they will.
“Invoking the 25th Amendment is an unprecedented action that is required for an unprecedented situation,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “If Vice President Pence is unable to complete this task for the American people, Congress will be forced to impeach this President once again.”
That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, who said Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol were “a shocking betrayal of his oath to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution – unlike anything we’ve seen in our nation’s history.”
“President Trump incited an insurrection and violent attack on Congress and the temple to our nation’s democracy in an attempt to hold on to power despite losing a free and fair election,” Stanton said in a written statement Monday.
But Republicans like Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, accused Democrats of pursuing a vendetta against a president whom they already impeached once, and warned that the House actions would “further the unrest and possibly incite more violence” at a time when healing is needed.
During a Rules Committee meeting to consider the resolution earlier Tuesday, Lesko noted that Democrats had won the presidency and control of both houses of Congress and that they should enjoy the win rather than pursue removal with just days left in Trump’s term.
“I really do believe that you pushing this is going to further divide our country, further the unrest and possibly incite more violence,” she said to Democrats on the committee.
Congress had started to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6 when Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol and “cheer on” Republican lawmakers who were challenging the vote.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong,” Trump said.
Thousands marched from that rally near the White House to Capitol Hill, where they soon overwhelmed police and forced their way into the Capitol by breaking windows and doors. The certification of the vote was halted as lawmakers were hustled to safety, while pro-Trump forces roamed the building.
During the breach, Trump backers fought police, stole laptops, mail and documents, and trashed offices, according to authorities, all while recording it on social media.
At least five people died during the riot and scores were injured. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they have opened more than 170 “subject files” of suspects involved in the insurrection and have filed charges against more than 70, with hundreds more expected.
Trump was criticized for not urging his supporters to stand down until hours after the violence began, at which point he released a videotaped statement in which he said they were “very special” but needed to go home. In a taped speech a day later, he said he was outraged by the violence and for the first time promised a peaceful transition of power to the new administration when Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
In remarks to reporters Tuesday, Trump repeatedly said he wants “no violence” and insisted that his response to the attack last week “was totally appropriate.”
But Arizona Democrats have vigorously disagreed. All five have signed on to an impeachment resolution that the House could take up as early as Wednesday if Pence does not invoke the 25th Amendment.
“Whether it is invoking the 25th Amendment, or beginning impeachment proceedings again, I fully support removing him (Trump) from the White House,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, in a Jan. 7 statement. “He is a threat to our democracy and to Americans at large.”
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, last week urged Pence to act, saying he would vote for impeachment otherwise.
“Our democracy has been damaged and faith in our election processes undermined again and again. Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” O’Halleran said in a Jan. 8 statement.
Republicans called another impeachment a futile gesture, noting that Senate leaders have said they would not be able to take up articles of impeachment until Jan. 20 – after Biden is sworn in. Lesko accused Democrats of taking a victory lap after gaining control of Congress and the White House.
“In a little more than a week … Biden will be the president. So please, let’s just move on and heal our country,” Lesko said.
But Stanton said healing will not begin by ignoring the events of the past week.
“We as a nation cannot begin to heal and move forward without accountability,” he said in his statement. “And the president must be held to account for his actions.”