US President Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that his tenure is coming to an end, as some of his staunch Republican allies began to abandon him and Democrats pushed for his impeachment the day after he incited a crowd of his supporters to storm the US Capitol.
Mr Trump said in a video Thursday night that “a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20” and pledged a “smooth, orderly and transparent transition of power.” He also condemned the violence on the Capitol as a “heinous attack” which “sullied” the building.
But the president did not admit that Joe Biden won the election and applauded his own efforts to get it rejected. “I was fighting to defend American democracy,” he said, before hinting at a comeback. “I also want you to know that our incredible journey has only just begun.”
Mr Trump has always refused to admit he lost, fueled conspiracy theories of voter fraud and encouraged supporters to descend on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as Congress convened to confirm Mr Biden’s victory.
As a result of the violence, a growing number of loyalists are distancing themselves from him.
Uprising on the U.S. Capitol: What the pro-Trump mob did, how Congress responded, and what happens next
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, resigned Thursday, leading an exodus from the administration that also included Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former chief of staff by Acting of the White House Mick Mulvaney. And a series of Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, rejected the president’s claims that the election was fraudulent.
“Yesterday our country experienced a traumatic and completely preventable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” Ms. Chao said in a statement. “It has deeply troubled me in a way that I cannot just put aside.”
Some critics considered these defections to be too few, too late. Mr. Trump has less than two weeks left in his tenure, and most of those leaving him now have stayed with him due to similar past behavior. But they were still extraordinary in a party that has so far generally allowed Mr. Trump’s lies and his efforts to overthrow the election.
Democratic lawmakers, for their part, pressured Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would strip Mr. Trump of his powers. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr Pence to ask on Thursday, Ms Pelosi said, but he did not return the call. If Mr Pence did not cooperate, they said, they would try to impeach the president and remove him from office.
Capitol Police faced their own judgment for failing to stop rioters from violating what was supposed to be one of the safest buildings in the country. Chief Steven Sund has resigned, as have Michael Stenger and Paul Irving, the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms, respectively, after pressure from Ms Pelosi, Mr McConnell and Mr Schumer.
One of the force officers is under investigation for shooting Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter, who died during the riot. Three other people died of medical causes on Capitol Hill.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Metropolitan Police Department have both announced plans to track down those responsible for the violence. Michael Sherwin, the District of Columbia’s senior district attorney, said “all options are on the table” for charging the rioters, including sedition.
“We will bring as many charges as possible,” he said on Thursday at a press briefing. Mr Sherwin said rioters may also have stolen sensitive national security documents when they looted lawmakers’ offices.
So far, only 15 of the hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol have been charged with offenses ranging from unauthorized access to theft. Many more people have been charged by Metro Police, Washington’s local force, with violating an 6 p.m. curfew or illegally carrying guns on city streets.
Tech companies have decided to restrict Mr. Trump’s access to their sites. After years of refusing to ban Mr. Trump despite repeated violations of his rules, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the president would be banned until Mr. Biden was sworn in and possibly after that .
“We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our services during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg wrote in a statement.
Ottawa-based Shopify, which operates online stores for Mr. Trump’s official merchandise, has also cut ties with him, closing the stores.
But nowhere can the reaction against the president be more important than among his fellow Republicans.
The party has always been loyal to Mr. Trump, who is more popular with right-wing voters than any other politician. Even as he accused Democrats of rigging the election and repeatedly tried to get election officials to invalidate Mr. Biden’s victory, Republicans either backed the president or refused to break with him.
On Wednesday, however, he appeared to cross a line in encouraging his supporters to descend on Capitol Hill as Congress formally confirmed Mr Biden’s victory. Hours after the riot, Mr. Trump’s allies began to change their minds.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Mr Trump’s frequent golf partner, first admitted on Wednesday night that Mr Biden actually won the election. Georgian Senator Kelly Loeffler, who had already voted as Mr Trump wanted 100% of the time, this time voted against Republican challenges to Mr Biden’s electoral votes.
Mr Mulvaney, the president’s special envoy to Northern Ireland, has resigned amid an exodus from the White House. Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger has also resigned, as has Stephanie Grisham, Chief of Staff to First Lady Melania Trump. The president’s social secretary and a press secretary also resigned.
Bill Barr, Mr. Trump’s former attorney general, condemned the president in a statement: “Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable. The President’s conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office and his supporters.
Adam Kinzinger became the first Republican lawmaker to call for the president to be removed from office. In an online video, the Illinois congressman called on Mr. Pence to “end this nightmare” and invoke the 25th Amendment.
To do this would require Mr. Pence and either a cabinet or congressional majority to agree. Removing Mr. Trump from office by impeachment would require a majority of the Democratic-controlled House and two-thirds of the Senate, which is equally divided between the two parties. Such a process, if successful, could also prevent Mr. Trump from holding federal office in the future, blocking a return attempt in 2024.
And Mr. Trump still demands absolute loyalty from many lawmakers. Even after Wednesday’s chaos, seven Senators and 121 House members voted to reject some of Mr. Biden’s election votes.
Chris Edelson, a government expert at the American University in Washington, said most of the Republicans’ condemnations were in vain. Only if they actively seek to remove Mr. Trump from office, he said, will their belated change of mind have any effect.
“If Republicans were really serious, they would call for the president’s immediate impeachment. Everything else is not really useful. “
Mr. Trump has caused similar crises before. In 2017, for example, he refused to condemn a host of white supremacists – many of whom strongly supported his presidency – after he started a riot in which a woman was killed. He has repeatedly tried to shut down investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia, while also asking Ukraine for help in tarnishing Mr Biden. And last spring, he repeatedly attacked anti-racist protesters; on one occasion, federal police sprayed and beat a crowd outside the White House to make way for a presidential photoshoot.
On these occasions, the Republican response was muted or insignificant. After Charlottesville, then economic adviser Gary Cohen wrote an op-ed condemning the violence, but did not quit administration. Mr Barr helped the president deal with the fallout from the Russian scandal and defended the gassing of protesters last year.
“Republicans are still a step or two behind. It’s the same now, ”said Professor Edelson. “They were never up to the task.”
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