Trump on brink of unprecedented second impeachment
Washington (AFP) –
The House of Representatives was set to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting insurrection Wednesday, with several key Republicans backing the Democrat-led push to bring down the real estate tycoon in flames just a week before he leaves office.
Washington was in a state of siege as lawmakers opened their session, with armed National Guard soldiers deployed, central streets barred to cars and public spaces fenced off.
The expected majority vote, coming seven days ahead of Democrat Joe Biden's inauguration, would make Trump the first US president to have been impeached twice.
Trump's epic downfall was triggered by his January 6 speech to a crowd on the National Mall, telling them that Biden had stolen the election and that they needed to march on Congress and show "strength."
Amped up on weeks of conspiracy theories pushed by Trump, the mob stormed into the Capitol, fatally injured one police officer, wrecked furniture and forced terrified lawmakers to hide, interrupting a ceremony to put the legal stamp on Biden's victory.
One protester was shot dead, and three other people died of "medical emergencies," bringing the toll to five.
Trump still remains defiant, refusing to accept responsibility for his campaign to undermine Americans' belief in the election system and his final, fiery speech on the Mall.
But his once seemingly unbreakable grip on Republicans is eroding as leaders run out of patience -- and look to a post-Trump rebuilding of their party.
Vice President Mike Pence threw Trump a lifeline on Tuesday, saying he would not invoke the 25th Amendment that allows him and the Cabinet to strip a sitting president of his powers.
But impeachment on the single charge of "incitement of insurrection" is all but assured to pass. A vote has been scheduled for around 3:00 pm (2000 GMT).
Trump, who has been stripped of his social media megaphones by Twitter and Facebook, and finds himself increasingly ostracized in the business world, is struggling to impose his message -- let alone any kind of resistance.
On a quick trip to Texas on Tuesday he visited the US-Mexico border wall, which he regards as one of his biggest achievements. But the brief, low-energy speech he made there did nothing to recapture his rapidly sliding momentum.
His insistence that his infamous speech to the crowd had been "totally appropriate" and that he bore no blame infuriated allies and opponents alike.
- Republican cracks -
While the House impeachment is all but assured, it had seemed highly unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate would follow through with a trial.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell made clear that there was no time before the January 20 change in presidency because the Senate is in recess until January 19.
Other than scheduling problems, there has been no appetite among Republicans, who acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial a year ago, to strip him of office just days before he is set to leave anyway.
However, according to The New York Times, McConnell signaled privately on Tuesday that he believes Trump did commit impeachable offenses and he welcomes the impeachment.
If confirmed, this would be a potentially fatal shift in the ground under Trump's feet. McConnell could in theory call the Senate back for an emergency session or encourage his senators to join Democrats in convicting Trump even after Biden assumes office.
In the House, the number three Republican Liz Cheney said she would be voting to impeach, and called Trump's actions "a betrayal" of his office.
This came after top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said members would not be required to toe the party line on the vote -- a significant weakening of support for Trump.
Four other House Republicans have now also publicly stated they will vote for impeachment.
The increasingly toothless Trump's social media woes also deepened late Tuesday when video-sharing giant YouTube said it was suspending his official account for at least a week, out of concern his videos could incite violence.
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