WASHINGTON – Three days after a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol carried out in President Donald Trump’s name, Republican leaders have yet to outline plans to hold anyone accountable or to alter a platform and priorities lashed to the outgoing Republican president.
Trump and some congressional Republicans, meanwhile, stepped up their efforts Saturday to head off Democratic efforts to impeach Trump over what they call his incitement of violence.
Behind closed doors, Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner have encouraged allies to fight against a potential impeachment by issuing statements on social media or elsewhere that discourage or condemn the move, people familiar with the calls said.
It was not clear whether those efforts were having much success. Republican allies of the president were mainly muted Saturday, as pressure continued to mount among Democrats to try to force Trump from office before his term expires Jan. 20.
Meanwhile, a small group of Republicans who had voted to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory released a letter Saturday calling on Biden to try to head off impeachment.
“In the spirit of healing and fidelity to our Constitution, I am asking that @JoeBiden formally request that Speaker Pelosi discontinue her efforts to impeach President Trump a second time,” tweeted Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., sharing a copy of the letter signed by seven lawmakers.
A Biden spokesman on Saturday referred to the president-elect’s comments the day before, when he said he would leave impeachment decisions to Congress.
Senate Republicans have not moved to investigate the assault on their workplace, which forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to flee with the help of his security team while Vice President Pence was whisked to a secure location.
Democrats are pushing to rapidly impeach the president a second time in less than two years – hoping to force Trump from office even a few days early.
Removing Trump by impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment governing unfitness for office remains a high hurdle, however, with less than two weeks remaining in his presidency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not made a formal determination to move forward with a second impeachment.
Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic members Saturday night that “it is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable” and that there “must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.” She did not specify an impending impeachment but told members to be ready for action.
“I urge you to be prepared to return to Washington this week,” she said.
McConnell, R-Ky., is circulating a memo to Republican senators that outlines how a potential Senate trial would work in proceedings that would all but certainly occur after Trump leaves the White House.
Relatively few Republicans have publicly disavowed Trump, who was received enthusiastically during a phone-in appearance at a members-only gathering during the Republican National Committee meeting the morning after the mob attack.
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, criticized the president’s actions since the election during a speech at the RNC. But she also embraced much of his presidency and praised his work in office, including his record on judicial appointments and the economy.
“And it’s a real shame, because I am one who believes our country made some truly extraordinary gains in the last four years,” she said. “President Trump and Republicans deserve great credit for that. We should not shy away from our accomplishments.”
She tweeted Saturday that the “shameful display of the riots” was a gift to America’s enemies and should never be allowed to recur, with no mention of the president’s role in inciting the attack. She separately tweeted opposition to the actions of Twitter and other social media companies, who have banned Trump from their platforms for allegedly fomenting the threat of violence.
A seven-point strategy memo from the Republican Study Committee released Friday made no mention of the attack and recommitted to themes Trump has championed, including the investigation of alleged voter fraud.
“As we move forward, we have an opportunity now more than ever to show the freedom-loving American people we represent that we are here fighting for them!” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., wrote.
“People are right to be frustrated with the way that states conducted the 2020 election. The rules were changed in the 11th hour in a way that sowed mistrust in our democratic process and many feel as if their votes weren’t counted. That can’t happen again,” Banks wrote.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., said Saturday that he believes Trump has “committed impeachable offenses,” adding during an interview on Fox News that he is not sure what, if anything, his colleagues will do in coming days.
“I don’t know what’s going to land on the Senate floor, if anything,” he said, referring to articles of impeachment expected to be voted on in the House next week. He did not directly call for Trump’s removal and tempered his view about Trump’s role.
“I don’t know what they are going to send over, and one of the things that I’m concerned about, frankly, is whether the House would completely politicize something,” Toomey said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, remains the lone Senate Republican to call for Trump’s resignation over what she told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday were his failures before and after the Capitol assault. The attack during certification of Biden’s victory left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he would consider impeachment.
While key lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, have called for a bipartisan and bicameral review of Wednesday’s events, there has been no decision yet on what form the investigation will take. Several congressional committees have announced they intend to investigate, and a special joint panel could be created to handle the probe.
So far the response from lawmakers regarding the security implications of Wednesday’s breach has been mostly free of political finger-pointing. But Republicans appear prepared to resist any attempt to expand a congressional probe beyond the scope of a security review and do not favor including the actions of Trump and other leaders who may have had a role in inciting the riot.
In a signal of how the investigation could become partisan, a freshman House Republican, Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, sent a letter to Pelosi on Friday, noting that the top House security official, the sergeant at arms, “works under the direction of the Speaker.”
“Please advise what processes were directed by you to provide enhanced security . . . in light of the known and anticipated major public demonstration on January 6th,” she wrote. Spartz made no mention of the Senate sergeant of arms, who works under the Republican majority leader.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Friday called the assault “un-American,” and said he had told Trump on Wednesday that “he had a great responsibility to intervene to quell the mob and start the healing process for our country.”
McCarthy said nothing about Trump’s culpability in falsely claiming victory and urging supporters to help him overturn the election, or in encouraging thousands to march on the Capitol. He was among the majority of House Republicans who voted to overturn the election after the siege.
“Over the coming weeks we will work with law enforcement to bring anyone responsible for the violence to justice. Lawlessness and extremism have no place in our way of life,” McCarthy said in Friday’s statement, urging that “partisans of all stripes” come together around a peaceful transfer of power.
“Impeaching the President with just 12 days left in his term will only divide our country more,” McCarthy said.
In McConnell’s impeachment memo, obtained by The Washington Post, the majority leader’s office noted that the Senate will not reconvene for substantive business until Jan. 19, which means the earliest possible date that an impeachment trial could begin would be the day before Biden is inaugurated.
Although the Senate will hold two pro forma sessions next week, on Jan. 12 and Jan. 15, it is barred from conducting any kind of business during those days – including “beginning to act on received articles of impeachment from the House” – without agreement from all 100 senators. With a cadre of Trump-allied senators in the Republican conference, that unanimous consent is highly unlikely.
Trump has not spoken to Pence since before the assault, when he urged Pence to try to block congressional certification of Biden’s victory, according to two people familiar with the relationship, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the president’s actions on the record. Trump remains angry at Pence for refusing to do as Trump wished.
Pence plans to attend Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, a person familiar with his plans said Saturday. Trump has said he will not attend, breaking a long-standing tradition.
Trump remained out of sight Saturday, and unnaturally silent. Twitter had permanently revoked his account on Friday evening, removing his accustomed direct broadcast system to nearly 90 million followers.
Trump spent much of the day Saturday railing about Twitter taking his account, according to two officials. The president has not said anything about the five people who died in the attack, including a Capitol Police officer, nor has he moved to lower the flags of the U.S. government in their honor. He does not plan to make that order and has complained to advisers that he is being treated unfairly, two people familiar with his comments said.
Some White House officials are concerned about the president’s liability from a broader investigation into the event. Trump knew for days there would be a march and wanted to participate himself, only to be thwarted for his own security, officials said.
A number of lawyers who participated in Trump’s last impeachment defense, including Jay Sekulow, Pat Philbin and Pat Cipollone, would be unlikely to participate this time in defending the president, one adviser said. Possibilities include Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, or defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the adviser said.
Party officials remain torn over what to do about Trump in the final days – with many ready to cut ties but wary because the party’s grass-roots activists and supporters are still largely with him.
“If you can replicate his draw amongst rural, working-class voters without the insanity, you have a permanent governing majority,” said Josh Holmes, a top adviser to McConnell.
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The Washington Post’s Seung Min Kim, Paul Kane and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.