The rule of law is dead if a sitting president can incite an insurrectionist mob to overturn democracy and then pardon everyone involved, including himself.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is leading a group of House Democrats in demanding that congressional leaders immediately reconvene both chambers to begin the process of impeaching and removing President Donald Trump, arguing that the nation cannot afford to "risk his unhinged behavior any longer."
"The attack on our nation's Capitol yesterday was a result of his incitement, and we cannot go home while he remains in the highest office in our land, threatening our elected officials, our nation's Capitol, and our very democracy," reads the Thursday letter (pdf), which is addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
"We will set a dangerous precedent if there are no consequences for a sitting U.S. president inciting violence as a last-ditch effort to remain in power against the will of the American people who voted him out of office."—Letter from House Democrats
The call by Tlaib and other House progressives came shortly before Trump released a brief video address late Thursday acknowledging that there will be a new administration on January 20 and pledging to submit to an "orderly transition," remarks that came just two days after a violent right-wing mob encouraged by the president invaded and ravaged the U.S. Capitol Building.
Tlaib and her Democratic colleagues warned that while Trump's official departure is less than two weeks away, that short period "may prove to be detrimental to our nation—every day that he remains in office is a serious threat to our democracy and our national security."
"We will set a dangerous precedent if there are no consequences for a sitting U.S. president inciting violence as a last-ditch effort to remain in power against the will of the American people who voted him out of office," the lawmakers wrote. "Congress must reconvene immediately in order to begin proceedings to remove Donald J. Trump from office.
Despite urgent pressure on the House hold the president to account for inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Democratic leaders adjourned the chamber Thursday morning after Congress certified President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Pelosi called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and said the House "may be prepared to move forward with impeachment" if he refuses to act, remarks that did not reflect the sense of urgency expressed by many members of her caucus.
"Please call the House to order and let's get it done. Today. Right now," said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has unveiled articles of impeachment against the president charging that he violated his oath and abused his power by attempting to overturn the November election and inciting violence in an "attempted coup against our country."
Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement late Thursday that they "have not yet heard back from the vice president" but hope to receive a response "as soon as possible." The statement does not mention impeachment.
Earlier Thursday, Schumer told reporters that when he and Pelosi attempted to get Pence on the phone hours after the assault on the Capitol, White House staff "kept us on hold for 25 minutes, and then said the vice president wouldn't come on the phone."
With Pence predictably refusing to act and as members of the Cabinet—most recently Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—avoid the 25th Amendment push by jumping ship, The American Prospect's David Dayen argued Thursday that "the only remedy that can actually do the job here is impeachment and removal."
"The need to remove, needless to say, is urgent," Dayen wrote. "Every crime perpetrated in Washington yesterday is a federal crime. Many U.S. attorneys, all appointed by Trump, are lining up to say they will prosecute seditionists, but Trump can end that immediately through the pardon power. Everyone in the Capitol yesterday can be absolved, if they were ever at risk at all."
"Moreover," Dayen continued, "each day of the final 13 that Trump remains in power gives him the ability to run this cycle again, or worse. And impeachment would bar him from any federal office in the future, which is an appropriate outcome for someone explicitly vowing to overthrow the government."
The New York Timesreported Thursday that, in addition to granting clemency to a number of other officials, Trump "has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency," an idea the president raised prior to his incitement of the right-wing mob. It is not clear whether Trump has suggested a self-pardon in the wake of the Capitol attack, according to the Times.
Observers were quick to note that either the successful invocation of the 25th Amendment or impeachment and removal by Congress would strip Trump of his pardon power, which he has thus far wielded to the benefit of his political allies and convicted war criminals. The Constitution makes clear that presidents "cannot pardon offenses for which they are impeached," as one expert recently pointed out.
Barring Trump from pardoning himself is reason alone "to remove Trump from office immediately, whether it be via the 25th Amendment or impeachment," argued Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections.
"The rule of law is dead if a sitting president can incite an insurrectionist mob to overturn democracy and then pardon everyone involved, including himself," Wolf added.
Will Stancil, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, tweeted late Thursday that "impeachment can't be 'early next week,'" a response to one Democratic lawmaker who suggested such a timeline.
"There are reports that Trump is gearing up for mass preemptive pardons," Stancil wrote. "There are reports he's trying to start a war. He's certainly willing to foment unrest. And surely we all realize, by now, that he means it. Impeach him tomorrow."