Pence rejects calls to oust defiant Trump, but impeachment looms

Mike Pence

US Vice President Mike Pence.

Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski | AFP


Bolstered by support from his deputy Mike Pence who opposed ousting the US president, Donald Trump denied responsibility Tuesday for an assault on Congress by his supporters but now faces an all-but-certain second impeachment effort.

With Republican backing for Trump eroding in the final days of his presidency, Pence served as an anchor, ruling out calls by Democrats to invoke the 25th Amendment in order to remove the president from office.

"I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation," Pence wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shortly before the House was set to vote on a measure calling on Pence to use the amendment to strip Trump of power.

With that effort dead, Pelosi quickly announced her managers for the impeachment debate, the strongest signal yet that she is going ahead with a move to make Trump the first president in US history to be impeached for a second time.

Impeachment vote

An impeachment vote in the House of Representatives is expected Wednesday. 

The single charge of "incitement of insurrection" — over his January 6 speech in which he claimed he was the real winner of the November election, then urged supporters to march on Congress and "fight" — is all but sure to get majority support.

Earlier Trump travelled to Alamo, Texas, and although he urged "peace and calm" during a visit to his US-Mexico border wall, his overall message was of refusal to take blame.

The crowd attacked the Capitol, fighting with police, ransacking offices, and briefly forcing terrified lawmakers -- and Pence -- to abandon a session certifying Democrat Joe Biden's election victory.

A defiant Trump insisted that "everybody" thought his speech was "totally appropriate."

Trump dubbed his likely impeachment a "continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics."

And he warned that while "you have to always avoid violence," his supporters are furious.

"I've never seen such anger," he said.

Democrats are all but sure to pass impeachment in the House.

It seemed unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate would be called into an emergency session to put Trump on trial before his term runs out on January 20.

Cracks appearing

However, significant cracks are appearing in the party that Trump has held in thrall for the last four years.

According to The New York Times, the powerful Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, has said privately he believes Trump did commit impeachable offenses.

In the House, the number three Republican Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, said she would be voting to impeach. 

This came after the 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.

Beyond the pale

Barred from Twitter and Facebook — two platforms integral to his shock rise to power in 2016 — Trump is for the first time struggling to shape the news message, a censoring by Big Tech that he called a "catastrophic mistake."

Ever since the November 3 election, the Republican real estate tycoon has been obsessively pushing his lie that Biden stole the election.

But his speech to supporters last week and the crowd's attack on Congress, which included fatally wounding a policeman, proved beyond the pale even for some of his staunchest supporters.

Major representatives of the corporate and sporting world have rejected Trump, while the Republican Party is splitting between ultra-loyalists and a growing number of lawmakers who see him as a liability.

Trump has yet to congratulate Biden or urge his supporters to stand behind the incoming president after he is inaugurated -- a gesture of political unity considered all but routine after US elections.

Second impeachment

With Trump under fire, Pence has shown his loyalty.

Although the vice president is reportedly furious about Trump's behaviour last week, the two met at the White House Monday for the first time since the attack, signalling he remained committed to keeping the presidency limping along to the end.

Still, with a string of cabinet officials quitting the government — most recently the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Monday — it's also clear that Trump's grip on power is tenuous.

The Republican-controlled Senate, however, is in recess until January 19 and its leadership says there is no way to rush through an impeachment trial before Biden takes over the following day.

This would mean that Trump, who was already acquitted in the Senate last year after his first impeachment trial, would not be forced out of office early.

Not even all Democrats are gunning whole heartedly for a trial, worried that this would overshadow Biden's first days in office.

The new president will already face the challenges of an out-of-control Covid-19 pandemic, the stumbling vaccination program, a shaky economy, and now the aftermath of violent political opposition from parts of Trump's huge voter base.

But several Democrats are demanding his immediate ouster, including congressman Jamie Raskin, who filed the resolution urging Pence to strip Trump of his powers.

"They may have been looking for Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi," Raskin, speaking on the House floor, said of the mob, "but every person in this room could have died."