The nation needs desperately to move beyond the Trump presidency. The economic, health and foreign relations challenges we face demand full attention of the Biden administration and incoming Congress.
So we do not need weeks of focus on Donald Trump via a second impeachment proceeding. We do not need to light another slow-burning fuse amid these powder keg conditions.
This is not, in any way, to suggest that we should ignore, normalize or excuse either Wednesday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol or Trump’s role in inciting his supporters. We suggest resolutions of censure as doable condemnations of the president’s behavior that will have as much practical effect as an impeachment proceeding, which won’t result in a Senate conviction.
As a technical matter, impeachment in the wake of Wednesday’s horrors is fully justified.
The problem is the lack of an effective option with just days remaining in Trump’s term.
The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, published by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, urged Trump to resign, as have others. We know that won’t happen.
Many people, including some Republicans, believe the right course would be to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which enables the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to certify that a president is unable to carry out his duties and temporarily remove him. Such a step, which would be unprecedented, would make Mike Pence acting president until Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. But Pence reportedly has ruled that out.
That leaves impeachment as the only remaining way to remove Trump from office. But that process will not move quickly enough for the Senate to convict him before his term is up. In any case, it’s highly improbable that 17 Republican senators would join Democrats to reach the required two-thirds vote for conviction, so the proceedings would be mostly a theatrical condemnation with the same practical effect as censure.
So Donald Trump will serve a full term as president, leaving office under the shadow of an insurrection that left five dead and that he demonstrably encouraged and was slow to denounce as his vice president and members of Congress sheltered from a marauding mob.
“Hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence,” a group chanted not long after Trump singled out Pence in his angry remarks to the crowd that he would encourage to march to the Capitol. At the same time, insurrectionists smashed windows and doors seeking entry to the House chamber and men roamed the Senate floor with zip ties that they had said online they intended to use to detain members of Congress.
It is wrong to minimize Trump’s role. Several Republicans, including two Cabinet members who resigned, Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, and other loyalists including former Attorney General William Barr and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, see clearly that the president helped whip an angry mob into a frenzy.
“We’re going to have to fight much harder and Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us,” Trump told the crowd. “If he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution. Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. After this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you. … you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
What the crowd then did was violently occupy the Capitol in a successful effort to disrupt the constitutionally mandated counting of Electoral College votes. That’s insurrection, abetted and fomented by the president in violation of his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Censure him. Such an action requires only majority approval in each chamber, and enough Republican senators have expressed anger with Trump that the prospects of such a resolution seem good.
Among them, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was blunt in declaring Trump responsible for the mayhem: “I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage.”
Other investigations of Trump’s conduct will continue, including a tax investigation by New York state that is outside his ability to pardon himself, if such a thing is legal, and perhaps Georgia investigations stemming from his calls to pressure election officials.