The grounds of the U.S. Capitol, normally open to the public and a running and biking route for many Washington, D.C., natives, was surrounded by a tall metal fence Wednesday, with dozens of National Guardsmen standing at the perimeter cradling their rifles at the ready.
Police officers and large dump trucks blocked intersections for blocks surrounding the building, a stark contrast to security in the area last week when a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol.
The heightened security in Washington comes as the House prepares to impeach Trump a second time Wednesday for his role in the riot that left five people dead.
Inside, the parts of the Capitol open to tourists instead were home to sleeping National Guardsmen – some of whom used camouflage blankets to block the sun coming in through the window. Lawmakers, staff and members of the press tip-toed past the snoozing guardsmen, including some who were snoring. Groups of troops made a home in the massive rotunda and near two entrances of the building, including an entrance typically used by the president-elect on inauguration day but was targeted by rioters last week.
At an entrance of the Capitol where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi normally enters, Guardsmen lay asleep beneath a bust of President Abraham Lincoln catching a bit of rest. A plaque above them commemorated soldiers who had been quartered at the Capitol at the beginning of the Civil War
Groups of soldiers walked around the grounds, and others unloaded riot gear, pistols, and rifles in the Capitol plaza.
The remnants of last week’s attack could be felt throughout the building. Plywood covers several windows on the first floor of the building where pro-Trump protesters broke in. In the basement, a large memorial was erected to thank Capitol Police for their service. Flowers, along with large and colorful posters from lawmakers, staff and children line the walls of an underground tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to House office buildings.
“Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid,” reads one poster from 8-year-old Syd in Virginia.
“We are forever indebted to our Capitol Police officers for making the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Thank you for keeping us safe,” reads another message from Rep. Nancy Mace’s office.
– Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu
Republicans push commission instead of impeachment
House Republicans argued Wednesday that instead of impeaching President Donald Trump, Congress should create a commission to study what happened last week.
Modeled after the bipartisan commission that analyzed the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the body would recommend how to prevent attacks on the Capitol in the future.
“I can think of no more appropriate path for Congress to follow,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.
Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, said the attacks “scared all of us who were here” and showed adversaries how they could take out a branch of government.
Democrats have said they will fully investigate the attacks, but Trump also needs to be impeached.
“We have no idea what he is capable of doing,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
– Maureen Groppe
Top Rules Committee Republican: impeachment would further divide nation
The top Republican on the House Rules Committee urged lawmakers not to move forward with a snap impeachment, saying Wednesday it would deny President Donald Trump due process and further divide a torn nation.
“Rather than seeking to heal America, they’re trying to divide up more deeply,” said Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole as the House began debate on the rules setting up debate on the impeachment resolution.
While Cole denounced the violence at the Capitol last week and described the president’s words as “reckless,” he said Congress should prepare for a new administration rather than rush to punish the departing one.
“Congress and the nation can move forward knowing the political process was completed as designed,” Cole said, referring to the recognition of Biden’s win last week when lawmakers approved the tabulation of the electoral vote in Biden’s favor. “But instead of moving forward as a unifying force, the majority in the House is choosing to divide us further.”
Cole said there are better ways to rebuke Trump, notably a resolution to censure the president that some Republican lawmakers have been circulating.
– Ledyard King
Rep. McGovern: House begins impeachment debate ‘at an actual crime scene’
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., opened the House debate on whether to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time by referencing his surroundings, which had been overrun by rioters last week.
“We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene,” McGovern said. “And we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the president of the United States.”
McGovern said Trump and his allies stoked the anger of a violent mob in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results.
A majority of House Republicans voted last week not to accept the state-certified results. While some Republicans will vote for the impeachment article, many others have called it a political move that will further divide the nation.
Addressing his GOP colleagues, McGovern said he is “not about to be lectured by people who just voted to overturn the results of a free and fair election.”
“America was attacked and we must respond, even when the cause of this violence resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. “Every moment Trump is in the White House, our nation, our freedom, is in danger.”
– Maureen Groppe
House reconvenes to debate Trump impeachment
Hours after passing a nonbinding resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to take power away from President Donald Trump, the House reconvened Wednesday to debate whether to impeach Trump for the second time.
The impeachment article, which is expected to be backed by all Democrats and some Republicans, could be approved by late afternoon.
The House is moving with remarkable swiftness to hold Trump accountable for his part in the takeover of the Capitol last week by rioters trying to stop Congress from counting the presidential election results.
House members have one hour to debate the rules for considering the impeachment article. They’re expected to vote on the parliamentary procedures around 10: a.m. EST
If those are approved, there will be two hours of debate on the article of impeachment, which charges Trump with inciting the riot Jan. 6 at the Capitol. The vote on the article itself could come about 3 p.m. EST, according to House leaders.
If Trump is impeached, the House will send the article to the Senate for trial. But the timing of a trial isn’t certain because Democrats are wary of the trial distracting attention from confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees and legislative priorities when his term starts Jan. 20.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told MSNBC Wednesday that the article will be transmitted as soon as possible.
“We think there’s an urgency here,” Hoyer said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
House Democrats previously impeached Trump in December 2019 for charges that he abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress in his dealings with Ukraine. The Republican-led Senate acquitted him in February 2020.
Pence has said he will not invoke the 25th Amendment, as Democrats want, to become acting president in the final days of the Trump administration.
– Bart Jansen, Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King
Rep. Liz Cheney: Trump ‘lit the flame’ of Capitol riot
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking House Republican, is joining Democrats in backing impeachment of President Donald Trump as the House prepares for a vote on the issue in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot.
If approved, Trump would become the first president in history to be impeached twice. House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 charging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in his dealings with Ukraine.
An open question this time is how many Republicans will join Democrats in voting to impeach the president. Republicans remained united in opposing the first impeachment, but at least five GOP lawmakers may vote with Democrats to impeach Trump, with more possibly joining them.
The article of impeachment charges the president with “incitement of insurrection” for “spreading false statements” about the election and challenging the Electoral College results, which Congress was counting on Jan. 6 when the mob broke into the Capitol.
The resolution quotes Trump’s speech to the crowd prior to the riot, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” The rampage that interrupted the count left one police officer dead, a female rioter fatally shot and three others dead from medical emergencies.
Cheney said Trump played a pivotal role in instigating the Capitol Hill riot.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” she said in a statement. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.”
Republican Reps. John Katko of New York and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois also said they’ll l vote to impeach.
“To allow the President of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said in a statement. “For that reason, I cannot sit by without taking action. I will vote to impeach this President.”
Kinzinger, a former Air Force veteran who served multiple tours overseas and in the Middle East, said there was “no doubt in my mind that the President of the United States broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection.”
Trump on Tuesday said the impeachment effort is stoking anger across the country. He also said his speech near the White House on Jan. 6, before rioters walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to storm the Capitol, was “totally appropriate.”
Most House Republicans have argued that impeachment with only a week left in Trump’s administration, which ends Jan. 20, will further divide the country.
But some Republicans have said Trump’s efforts to question the election results and then stoke a violent mob require a response.
Democrats said impeachment could also be a way to prevent Trump from serving in federal office again. A two-thirds vote in the Senate is required for conviction, but then senators could vote to bar him from office.
If the House approves the article, the timing of the Senate trial is unclear. Democrats are reluctant to begin a trial just as President-elect Joe Biden’s term begins. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she’s reviewing the timing, but hasn’t announced a decision.
Contributing: Christal Hayes