US senators balk at Trump impeachment over Capitol siege

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A push by Democrats in Congress to impeach Donald Trump for a second time is running into resistance in the US Senate, with senior lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voicing their opposition.

Democrats will introduce a motion to the House of Representatives on Monday calling on Mike Pence, the vice-president, to strip Mr Trump of his office following last week’s violence by the president’s supporters in Washington. If Mr Pence fails to do so, they plan to vote to impeach Mr Trump later this week, which would make him the first president to be impeached twice.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, laid out her plans in a letter to colleagues on Sunday. “As the days go by, the horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetuated by this president is intensified and so is the immediate need for action,” she wrote.

But while a growing number of Republicans have criticised the president for his role, none has said they would vote to convict him of wrongdoing in the Senate. Several added they did not think impeachment was the best way to hold Mr Trump accountable.

“The best way for our country is for the president to resign and go away as soon as possible,” Pat Toomey, one of the Republican senators who has led condemnation of the president, told NBC News. He doubted it would be possible to impeach Mr Trump in the limited time he has left in office or afterwards.

Mr Toomey’s concerns were echoed by Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator, who said he did not want impeachment proceedings to distract Mr Biden in his first few months in office.

Mr Trump has been roundly condemned for urging on a crowd of supporters who went on to storm the Capitol building, resulting in the deaths of five people, including a police officer. The rioters briefly stopped the certification of Mr Biden’s electoral victory, which Mr Trump continues falsely to claim was illegitimate, trashed furniture and posed for photographs.

Members of Congress who sheltered in a secure room amid the violence may also have been exposed to coronavirus. Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress, emailed members on Sunday, warning: “Individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

The siege has caused a split in the party between Trump loyalists and establishment Republicans who want a break from the president’s brand of politics.

Several members of Mr Trump’s administration have resigned, while others have called for him to face criminal charges once he leaves office.

Mick Mulvaney, the president’s former chief of staff who stood down last week from his role as special envoy to Northern Ireland, called the events a “fundamental threat to the United States”. He predicted Mr Trump would be ostracised by his party as a result.

“I thought the president would be presidential . . . I don’t know what’s going on inside the Oval Office now and I don’t know what’s going on inside the president’s head,” Mr Mulvaney told NBC News on Sunday.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican former governor of California, compared the violence to Kristallnacht. “Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States . . . [Mr Trump] sought a coup by misleading people with lies,” he said in a speech posted on Twitter.

Donors have also started to turn their backs on Mr Trump’s Republican allies, with at least three big corporate donors saying they would no longer give money to certain members of the party. Marriott International, the hotel chain, said it would not donate to Republican senators who voted against certifying Mr Biden’s election.

While Democrats are preparing to impeach the president this week, they are likely to postpone referring the matter to the Senate for a trial until after he leaves the White House. At that point, Senators could vote on whether to bar the president from office in future, in a move that would scupper his hopes of running in 2024.

Jim Clyburn, the Democratic House majority whip, said they could even delay starting a Senate trial until after Mr Biden’s first 100 days in office.

Winning a Senate vote is likely to prove far harder, however, than impeaching Mr Trump. Doing so would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Meanwhile, authorities continued to announce arrests over last week’s violence, with Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, telling NPR that “hundreds” of people could ultimately face charges over the storming of the Capitol.

Jason Crow, the Democratic Congressman from Colorado, said he had been told by Ryan McCarthy, the secretary of the army, that 25 domestic terrorism cases had been opened as a result of the violence. Mr Crow added that he was told guns, explosives and cable ties had also been recovered from the scene.

Larry Brock and Eric Munchel were both charged on Sunday with violent entry and disorderly conduct after being seen carrying plastic wrist ties into the Capitol building.