WASHINGTON — Democrats are discussing Friday whether to move forward with the quick impeachment of President Donald Trump if his Cabinet doesn't try to remove him first, moving swiftly two days after the Capitol was ransacked by a pro-Trump mob.
House Democrats are set to hold a caucus meeting at noon, the first since Wednesday's harrowing events at the Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the prospect of impeachment with her leadership team Thursday night, hours after announcing that the House was willing to act if Vice President Mike Pence and other officials did not invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — the forceful removal of Trump from power by his own Cabinet.
Though Trump has less than two weeks in office, lawmakers and even some in his administration began discussing options for his removal Wednesday afternoon as Trump first encouraged the crowd to march on the Capitol, then refused to forcefully condemn the violent assault and appeared to excuse it.
Rep. Katherine Clark, a member of House Democratic leadership, said procedural moves could allow them to move far quicker than they did on Trump's impeachment last year.
"I can confirm that we have had discussions about it and I would hope that the speaker would move forward if the vice president refuses to do what he is required to do under the Constitution," said Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, on CNN. "Everyone knows that this president is deranged."
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have called for Trump's Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to force Trump from office before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. Schumer said he and Pelosi tried to call Pence early Thursday to discuss that option but were unable to connect with him.
Pelosi during a new conference Thursday challenged several Cabinet members by name, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
"Do they stand by these actions?" Pelosi asked. "Are they ready to say that for the next 13 days this dangerous man can do further harm to our country?"
Most Democrats, and many Republicans, put the blame squarely on Trump after hundreds of protesters bearing Trump flags and clothing broke into the Capitol on Wednesday and caused destruction and mass evacuations. The president had urged his supporters to protest as Congress was counting the electoral votes that confirmed Joe Biden's win.
Pelosi said "a threshold was crossed of such magnitude" that Trump should not be allowed to make any decisions.
Three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee began Thursday to circulate articles of impeachment. Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California wrote in the articles that Trump "willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol."
The House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in early 2020.
Pence has not publicly addressed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment, but that possibility may have faded after two Cabinet members resigned Thursday in protest after Trump egged on protesters who then mounted the deadly assault on the Capitol.
Yet senior Trump administration officials did raise the long-shot possibility as the chaos unfolded at the Capitol. Officials across the government went so far as to study up on the procedures for declaring Trump "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
No member of the Cabinet has publicly expressed support for the move, which would make Pence the acting president. But several were believed to be sympathetic to the notion, believing Trump is too volatile in his waning days before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.
Under the 25th Amendment, Trump could dispute his Cabinet's finding, but the Cabinet could quickly reaffirm its position, keeping Pence in power while the question fell to lawmakers.
While the House could quickly vote to impeach Trump, it is extremely unlikely that Congress could remove the president in the next 13 days. The Senate would have to receive the articles and then hold a trial and vote on them.
And even if it did so, the Republican Senate would be unlikely to vote to convict. Democrats are set to narrowly take the Senate when Biden is inaugurated, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell holds the gavel until then.
But in one measure of the uncomfortable position that Trump's goading of the mob had placed Republican lawmakers, there was a noteworthy lack of GOP statements attacking Democrats' calls for his removal.
Biden distanced himself from his fellow Democrats' push to oust Trump with the 25th Amendment. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the president-elect, said Biden was focused on taking office on Jan. 20 "and will leave it to Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and the Congress to act as they see fit."