US senators balk at impeaching Trump over Capitol siege

Senior US senators are resisting the drive to impeach Donald Trump for a historic second time, even as Democrats in the House of Representatives prepare to push ahead with their plan to do so this week.

House Democrats plan to hold a vote on impeaching the president on Tuesday or Wednesday, having gathered nearly 200 signatures in support. Mr Trump would become the first president in history to be impeached twice if the vote passes in the Democrat-controlled chamber.

But while a growing number of Republicans have criticised the president for his role in inciting violence in the US Capitol last week, none have said they will vote to convict him of wrongdoing in the Senate. And several said this weekend they did not think impeachment to be the best way to hold Mr Trump accountable for his actions and those of his supporters.

“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 the condemnation of the president, told NBC News on Sunday. He doubted it would be possible to impeach Mr Trump either 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.

And while members of Congress sheltered in a secure room amid the violence, they may have been exposed to coronavirus, it emerged on Sunday. 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 GOP between Trump loyalists and establishment Republicans who want a post-defeat 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, said on Sunday the events of Wednesday were 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.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican former governor of California, on Sunday compared Wednesday’s 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.”

Donors have also started to turn their backs on Mr Trump’s Republican allies, with at least three major 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 future office, in a move which would scupper his hopes of running again in 2024.

Jim Clyburn, the Democratic House majority whip, said this weekend 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, and while several Republican senators have called on Mr Trump to resign in the next 10 days, none has said they will definitely vote to convict him.

Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, said this weekend he would “consider” voting to convict Mr Trump.

The outgoing president himself has been uncharacteristically silent, having had his preferred megaphone removed when Twitter suspended his account on Friday.

That move, along with the decision by Amazon, Google and Apple to remove rightwing social network Parler from their platforms, has provoked a fierce conservative backlash against technology companies.

“Big Tech’s PURGE, censorship & abuse of power is absurd & profoundly dangerous,” tweeted Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator who led the movement to deny certification of Mr Biden’s electoral college win.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to announce more arrests over Wednesday’s violence. Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, told NPR that “hundreds” of people might ultimately face charges over the storming of the Capitol Building, which left five people dead.

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