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Lawmakers Call For Trump's Removal From Office After Riot At U.S. Capitol

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It is the day after - the day after an armed mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, which left one person shot dead, the building vandalized and much of the country shaken. As we try to digest the implications of this attack, top Democrats in the House and Senate are calling on Vice President Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment. They want to force President Trump out of office for inciting extremists to storm the U.S. Capitol. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the announcement at a press conference this afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NANCY PELOSI: If the vice president and the Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.

CHANG: Pelosi said that was the overwhelming sentiment among Democrats.

Joining us now with more is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So this is a pretty unprecedented call we're hearing from top leaders in Congress. What more did Pelosi have to say about this?

DAVIS: Well, the speaker said that she and incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have made their interest known to Vice President Pence. Schumer separately told reporters today that she - he and Pelosi called Pence and were put on hold for 25 minutes and that the vice president would not get on the phone with them, so he was going public with their request. Pelosi said she hoped that Pence would respond as soon as today, but that if he does not respond or if the answer is no, that the House is prepared to move forward quickly with articles of impeachment.

CHANG: Wow. OK.

And if I'm not mistaken, the 25th Amendment has never been invoked in this way, right?

DAVIS: No.

CHANG: Can you just, like, explain how it would work exactly?

DAVIS: Well, there's a lot of questions because it has never been invoked before. But broadly speaking, there is a provision within the 25th Amendment that would allow for the vice president, along with a majority of the president's Cabinet, to sign a letter sent to the speaker of the House and the Senate pro tem that effectively says the president is unfit for office. Just the sending of that letter would unseat a sitting president and allow a vice president to take over as acting president. The president could contest that challenge and put it to the Congress to ultimately decide the question. But it's a process that could take weeks, probably longer than the 13 days left in Trump's term. And supporters of the strategy basically argue that it's enough to just tie Trump's hands and protect him from taking any more official actions as president.

I think we should caution, we have no indication that this is being seriously considered by the Trump administration. However, we are seeing ongoing resignations, both on a staff level and the first Cabinet-level resignation today from labor secretary - excuse me - Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is, of course, the wife of Senate - outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

CHANG: That's right. OK. So have any Republicans chimed in with these same calls to remove President Trump?

DAVIS: A couple - Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is the first to agree that the 25th Amendment should be invoked. He put out a video this morning. Here's part of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM KINZINGER: Here's the truth. The president caused this. The president is unfit, and the president is unwell. And the president must now relinquish control of the executive branch voluntarily or involuntarily.

DAVIS: Another Republican, Ohio's Steve Stivers, said he would not oppose it if the Cabinet did choose to invoke the 25th Amendment. Notably, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he told reporters he doesn't support invoking the 25th Amendment now. But he said it should not be taken off the table if something else were to happen. I still think, again, we should caution that the signals from Capitol Hill are that the vast majority of Republicans still remain supportive of Trump staying in office.

CHANG: Right. OK. And as you say, there are only 13 days left before Biden is inaugurated. If the 25th Amendment is not invoked, which we know would take well more than 13 days to invoke, how realistic is it then to even consider an impeachment process at this stage?

DAVIS: Well, there is already an impeachment resolution circulating among Democrats to impeach the president for, quote, "willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States." Support for it is growing. Lawmakers are signing on as co-sponsors, including two senior House Democratic leaders, Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

The House can technically move pretty quickly on impeachment if they wanted to, but they're also out of session right now. They'd have to call everybody back. Even if they did come back and pass a resolution, it would be nearly impossible to have a Senate trial in time, especially because we know the Senate's in limbo right now. Democrats have to wait so they have the majority when the Georgia Senate results have been certified and those senators have been sworn in. But if the House votes to impeach, it would put Trump on record as the first president to ever be impeached twice. And a lot of Democrats say that's a political punishment that they would like to see delivered after what happened yesterday.

CHANG: Wow, just extraordinary. That is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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