Donald Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, as a bipartisan House majority Wednesday voted to charge him with inciting insurrection by his supporters, who stormed the Capitol to block ratification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
It was a defining moment that will probably eclipse any policy accomplishments of Trump’s presidency—such as his tax cuts, deregulation of business and remaking of the federal judiciary—and illustrated how far he has fallen in the year since his last impeachment and trial, when all but one Republican in Congress stood by him.
The 232-197 House vote Wednesday came exactly one week after the Capitol suffered its most violent assault since the British burned it in the War of 1812.
One casualty of last week’s Capitol siege seemed to be Trump’s iron grip on the GOP. In the final vote, 10 Republicans, including No. 3 GOP leader Rep. Liz Cheney, joined 222 Democrats in approving one article of impeachment.
The charge against Trump now goes to the Senate, where a trial will not be held until after Trump leaves office Wednesday. A post-presidency conviction would be too late to cut short his term in office, but it could be followed by a vote on a measure to bar Trump from running again for president.
The emotional House debate split lawmakers not so much over whether Trump was to blame for the violence but over whether he should be impeached with just one week left in his presidency.
“The president of the United States incited this insurrection and this armed rebellion,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking in a Capitol still reeling from last week’s siege, now safeguarded by more military troops than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation we all love.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., voted against impeachment but for the first time publicly blamed Trump for the insurrection.
“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” he said on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
In a major break with the president he has loyally served for four years, a furious Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is considering supporting Trump’s conviction when it comes to a trial in the Senate, according to sources familiar with his thinking.
In a memo to GOP colleagues Wednesday, McConnell did not deny widespread reports about his openness to conviction. “I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
If McConnell came down in favor of conviction, it could open a path for other Republicans to seize an opportunity to make a clean break with an increasingly unpopular and erratic president.
The fast-moving scene of political tumult is an appropriate coda for a Trump tenure that has broken precedent, norms and laws at every turn. Even in the Senate, Republicans are beginning to envision what was unthinkable just days ago: that there might be enough votes to produce the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump, although most likely not until he is out of office.
If McConnell ultimately supported conviction, members of his leadership team would likely follow the leader’s vote. Other Republicans have already signaled openness, including Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to support conviction last year.
Timing is a wild card, and McConnell on Wednesday rejected a request by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York that they invoke emergency authorities to bring the Senate back into session before that.
In a statement released after the House vote, McConnell noted that the Senate’s past impeachment trials took 21, 37 and 83 days.
“There is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” he said. “Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact.”
Schumer, who will succeed McConnell as majority leader, issued his own statement committing to a Senate vote on Trump’s impeachment, saying a trial could start immediately.
Biden, worried that a full-time impeachment trial would distract from his administration’s ability to get Cabinet nominations confirmed and his legislative agenda started, has discussed with McConnell the idea of “bifurcating” the Senate’s business to accommodate both a trial and his agenda. Alan Frumin, former Senate parliamentarian, said he saw no obstacle in Senate rules to doing so.
In a statement released after the House vote, Biden said: “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.”
Although there was some talk of the House postponing the delivery of the impeachment articles to the Senate to avoid slowing Biden’s start, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday that they would be transferred as soon as possible. House Democrats are steadfastly opposed to a delay, arguing that Trump poses a danger while he is in office.
To those who argued that there was not enough time to finish the process before Trump leaves office in the regular course of events, Hoyer said as House debate opened, “Is there little time left? Yes. But it is never too late to do the right thing.”
Sending a message of defiance to last week’s pro-Trump mob, Pelosi appeared late Wednesday at a lectern that had been stolen in the melee and later returned. Signing the impeachment measure to prepare it for delivery to the Senate, she said: “Today in a bipartisan way the House demonstrated that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.”
After the House vote, Trump released a video statement that attempted to distance himself from the Capitol attack but made no mention of impeachment.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever support political violence,” he said in the video, which was recorded in the Oval Office. He asked his supporters to be “thinking of ways to ease tensions, calm tempers and help to promote peace in our country.”
The day had begun with Trump uncharacteristically silent, his White House barely attempting to defend him against the charge that his speech to thousands of supporters rallying near the Capitol incited them to march on the Capitol to “fight” as the House and Senate were convening for the usually routine counting of electoral college votes to ratify Biden’s victory.
There were no administration briefings or statements opposing the impeachment. Top advisers were absent from television networks. The president’s once-powerful Twitter account was still silenced, shut off days ago over concerns that he could use it to incite more violence. It was a sign of how isolated the president has become since the mob attack on the Capitol. He was on track to end his presidency just as his long-shot presidential campaign began in 2015: at odds with many members of his own party.
The House debate began in a setting that spoke more to the exigencies of the moment—the ongoing pandemic and continuing security concerns in the wake of last week’s Capitol siege—than to the historic nature of the day.
The Capitol complex was wrapped in a level of security far higher than last week, surrounded by new fencing and populated with thousands of police, law enforcement officers and troops from several agencies. National Guard troops bivouacked overnight inside the Capitol, sleeping on the cold marble floors.
Lawmakers and staff were required to walk through magnetometers to gain entrance to the chamber, although some resisted the screening devices. Only about 20 people—wearing masks and keeping social distance—were on the House floor when the debate was called to order.
Still, the weight of history hung over the debate as the House approved a presidential impeachment for only the fourth time since the founding.
“What each of us chooses to do today, whether we vote to hold this president to account or look the other way, we will be remembered by history, by our children and their children,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif.
“We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the president of the United States,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D- Mass.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of Trump’s most loyal allies, did not defend the president but portrayed the impeachment effort as part of a broad Democratic effort to undercut or “cancel” Trump’s presidency from the day he was inaugurated.“It’s always been about getting the president no matter what,” said Jordan, who has said he believed Cheney should be voted out of the leadership for supporting impeachment. “The cancel culture will come for us all.”
Some House Republicans were still visibly shaken by the insurrection in their workplace only one week ago.
“If you work in this building every day, (Wednesday’s attack) is much more difficult to process given the nature of this building and the deep respect for it, the deep love. That’s the jarring part for members,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a member of leadership.
Still, he said most Republicans perceived the impeachment drive to be based on politics, pointing to speculation that House Democrats would hold the articles of impeachment until some of Biden’s Cabinet can be approved.
That “tells me they’ve thought through the threat of imminent dangers and this is now political calculation they’ve made on the impeachment vote. That really belies the political nature of it,” he said.
Republicans had political calculations of their own: Many come from safe GOP-dominated districts where their top political threat comes not from a Democratic opponent but from a GOP primary challenge if they cross Trump supporters.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., one of the Republicans who voted for impeachment, shrugged off that political threat.
“I’m not afraid of losing my job but I am afraid that my country will fail,” she said. “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side, I am choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”
In her first speech on the House floor, freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said she sent her children home Monday after she was sworn in, because she was afraid of the rhetoric leading up to Jan. 6.
Although she said of Trump, “I hold him accountable ... for the attack last Wednesday,” Mace said she would not support impeachment because she believed it would divide the nation further.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., echoed that concern and said, “Rather than looking ahead to a new administration, the majority is again seeking to settle scores against the old one. “
The 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment was a record level of support for impeachment from a president’s own party. In addition to Cheney, they were Herrera Beutler of Washington, Fred Upton of Michigan, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Dan Newhouse of Washington, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Peter Meijer of Michigan and David Valadao of California.
When the House voted in 1868 to impeach Andrew Johnson, no Democratic supported the move. When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, five Democrats joined with Republicans on three of the four counts against Clinton. No Republicans voted in favor of Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019, though Romney voted for one count in the Senate trial.
Jeffrey Charles Barnett
Candie A. Brock
Salvatore C. Buccieri Jr.
Yvonne M. Eithun
James H. Francis
Ronald K. Ganong
Joseph G. Godina
Lukas Mark Yeske
More publicity about a law that allows a parent to give up a newborn anonymously would not be a bad idea, some local officials agreed Wednesday as the state deals with the horrific details of a baby’s death.
A 16-year-old father faces charges in Green County after being accused of taking his infant child from her teenage mother in Albany and then shooting and killing the infant.
The baby girl, born Jan. 5, was named Harper. The father indicated to authorities that he and the mother did not want to keep Harper and considered adoption or turning her in at a fire station.
The Wisconsin law is often called the safe haven law. It allows parents of infants who are less than 72 hours old to leave the child anonymously with any EMT, hospital employee or at any fire or police station, without fear of criminal or civil prosecution.
“Too bad these kids didn’t realize that all they had do is give the infant up, no questions asked,” said Cmdr. Jude Maurer of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
Maurer was not aware of any infants being surrendered to sheriff’s deputies since the law went into effect in 2001.
Maurer said he doesn’t know the details of the Albany case or whether knowledge of the law could have helped, but he said it wouldn’t hurt if Wisconsin’s no-fault infant drop-off law was better known.
“Unfortunately, it takes an incident like this for us to have these questions asked,” Maurer said.
Bob Swenarski, emergency preparedness administrator at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, noted that any internet search would turn up information about the safe haven law and agencies waiting to help.
Even so, “The more we could get information like this out, the better. Until something happens, nobody talks about it,” Swenarski said.
Swenarski said the hospital has not dealt with any babies being dropped off since it opened 10 years ago.
The availability of the program is discussed with new parents, said hospital spokeswoman Erica Mathis.
When asked for similar information about its Janesville hospital, Mercyhealth sent a statement saying it complies with the safe haven law and has “protocols in place to accept an infant if and when the time comes. If someone is unable to care for their infant, we encourage parents to always seek help or bring the baby to a local hospital, police or EMS.”
Deputy Chief Terry Sheridan of the Janesville police said he was not aware of any safe haven drop-offs with Janesville officers. He said officers are trained about the safe haven law, but he hasn’t noticed any pamphlets or posters about it in public places.
“It doesn’t seem to be widely known. … It would be a good thing if we got it out there more,” Sheridan said.
A sign on the entrance to the emergency room at St. Mary’s-Janesville calls attention to the place offering “safe haven,” but it doesn’t spell out that the hospital is ready to accept infants under the law.
Several states have gone so far as to authorize baby drop-off boxes, much like a night depository, at hospitals.
“Regardless of how the baby is surrendered at the hospital, police or fire department, its safety is of the utmost importance,” Swenarski said when asked if drop boxes might help. “All these agencies have teams ready to accommodate should a baby be brought in, whether it’s through a door or another medium, like the baby box.”
Wisconsin’s law does not require the parent to give a name or address unless the baby has been harmed, the parent is being forced to give up the baby or the baby is more than 3 days old.
When the Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes delivers a daily prayer service, it’s now in front of a camera.
And except for weekend services, she preaches from a riser that overlooks empty church pews at Janesville’s Trinity Episcopal Church.
Even as winter has descended, Monson Lutes and her staff deliver weekend services at a Lutheran church parking lot about a mile away from Trinity rather than in the church’s sanctuary.
The ministry rolls on, and Monson Lutes said she has felt blessed that she and her four-person staff can continue to offer members services even as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on.
Like dozens of types of small businesses, the pandemic has forced titanic shifts in how local churches operate. It has brought shifts toward virtual or outside services but also a sharp decline in churches’ main source of revenue: offering collections.
Last year, Trinity turned to a federally backed Paycheck Protection Program loan, or so-called “PPP loan,” which Monson Lutes said helped her church continue to run amid a pandemic that has brought financial pressure unlike anything the church has seen in its 175 years in Janesville.
This week, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced it’s opening another application period for a second wave of PPP loans. The agency has toggled the rules for the loan application phase to give first priority to some smaller lenders that weren’t involved in earlier waves of the program.
Monson Lutes and other local church leaders said they haven’t yet decided whether they will pursue additional PPP loans, but Trinity is one of many locally that are likely to see major, continued challenges as the pandemic rolls on.
According to a Gazette analysis of federal data, local churches were among the biggest borrowers through the federally backed loan program that first launched under the federal CARES Act signed into law last spring.
Federal data shows that during the program’s first wave last year, churches in Janesville have borrowed a total of $929,000 in PPP loans, according to a Gazette analysis. By business sector, that was the second-largest block of PPP money distributed locally—second only to the $1.1 million the local restaurant sector borrowed under the program.
In all, the PPP loans have helped local churches retain 22 workers, according to the data.
Larry Squire, regional president of Johnson Bank in Janesville, oversees his bank’s involvement in writing and managing PPP loans through the CARES Act.
Late last year, even before Congress had approved more CARES Act funding, Squire said businesses of all types still weathering the pandemic started reaching out to learn when and under what guidelines new paycheck protection loans might be available.
“They were asking, ‘When will (PPP) applications open, and do I qualify?’” Squire said.
Monson Lutes said her small staff has been able to continue working. She said the church held its PPP funding to help cover payroll because use of the funds that way allows the loans to remain forgivable under federal rules—making the money similar to a grant.
This was as the church had to shut down its sanctuary and shift to holding services in the parking lot at First Lutheran Church on North Randall Avenue. The Lutheran church allows Trinity and other churches to use its outdoor stage and radio broadcast equipment, which Monson Lutes said has helped to turn the church’s challenges into a “blessing” and a “wonderful opportunity.”
The Episcopal diocese Trinity belongs to decided last year to order its church sanctuaries closed to large-scale, in-person services, Monson Lutes indicated. That decision was part of a bigger, temporary shift by the diocese during a pandemic that health officials believe poses a larger risk of infection to those who gather in crowds.
Monson Lutes’ staff has retooled its ministry to allow virtual prayer services and weekend parking lot services to continue even as the church shut its doors to large group services. That shift might not have been possible to manage without a payroll protection loan that kept staff employed.
“We were able to meet our payroll, even though we weren’t able to meet together in the church. It helped us make it. It helped us get through 2020, that’s for sure,” Monson Lutes said.
Bond Haldeman, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in downtown Janesville, said a PPP loan last year helped his church keep its small staff of six part-time employees—including its custodial staff—employed.
Churches continue to be allowed to apply for paycheck protection loans under the loans’ structure. Haldeman said his church’s leadership wrestled with the idea of applying for PPP funds.
Among other functions, St. John allows humanitarian social service nonprofits to use church spaces to provide programs for residents in need. Without church custodians remaining employed, Haldeman said, St. John might not have been able to maintain the church for use by outside groups that rely on it.
“We’re not contributing into the federal government the same way as a business does, but we see ourselves and part of our mission as being for the community, and we wanted to see that (nonprofit) organizations in the community could continue to use our facility,” he said.