A tweet from former President Donald Trump is shown on a screen at a hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 09, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Photo by Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images
- Democrats want to block Trump from ever holding office again.
- But lawmakers are divided on how to stop him from running again.
- Overplaying their hand could backfire in the 2022 midterms, a Democratic strategist warned.
The former president’s demand to loosen security at his raucous “Stop the Steal” rally despite being told his supporters may be armed.
The top White House lawyer warning on January 6, “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
State and local election officials pressed and threatened to overturn election results. Top Justice Department officials telling the president they are ready to resign en-masse.
In a span of three weeks, the bipartisan House January 6 committee has painted a troubling portrait of Donald Trump grasping at every straw that might allow him to cling to presidential power during his administration’s last days.
But with at least two more hearings on the horizon, Democratic lawmakers are unsure what action they should take next to try to stop Trump, a hugely popular Republican who has survived repeated scandals, including two impeachments, and is considered a top 2024 presidential contender despite the legal clouds surrounding him.
Their options to lock him out of the Oval Office are unprecedented and fraught. They could try to impeach Trump for the third time and get the deadlocked Senate to convict him, which then would open the door to another simple majority vote as specified under the Constitution that would bar him from every holding federal office again. Or lawmakers could invoke the 14th amendment and get Congress to approve a bill disqualifying him from holding office. Many of them suggested they wanted to wait for the Justice Department to weigh in, reasoning that even the latest revelations of abuse of power wouldn’t sway Republican senators to vote against Trump and risk his vengeance.
The 14 Democratic lawmakers who spoke to Insider say that the increasingly explosive public hearings reveal an unhinged Trump, a portrayal that could diminish his political support as he eyes a future run. But some warn the risks to democracy are so imminent that extraordinary steps are needed now, and can’t wait for state or federal prosecutors to bring charges.
“I would love it if we could disqualify him,” Senate Judiciary Committee member Mazie Hirono told Insider at the US Capitol.
The Hawaii Democrat said she doesn’t need any more convincing about Trump’s guilt. “I think that the hearings have very much shown a pattern of, I would say criminality,” Hirono said.
Impeaching or barring Trump would require more support from Republicans than previous efforts have garnered, and others in their caucus worry that the time for legislators to hold Trump accountable is past, as Americans express concerns about runaway inflation, gun violence and the chaos after the overturning of constitutionally guaranteed abortion rights.
Former President Donald Trump
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Searching for ‘the right remedy’
Democratic lawmakers are deeply divided over Trump.
The House select committee is presenting evidence that Trump was personally involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and as the former federal judge Michael Luttig testified, may try to do so again in 2024. But the decision about whether he broke the law falls to Attorney General Merrick Garland and his prosecutors.
One of the Democrats’ options would be to impeach Trump for a third time, even though they’ve twice fallen short of convicting him in the Senate, where a two-thirds supermajority is required to remove from office.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he was unsure if another impeachment would even be possible given that Trump is no longer in office, but didn’t put too much stock in that anyway.
“I don’t know that impeachment would be the right remedy,” Blumenthal told Insider while walking to the Senate chamber. “I think more likely is some kind of criminal enforcement. And that’s why I need to hear the evidence.”
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia immediately shut down any talk of a third impeachment trial when Insider asked, and actually made a case for reconsidering the last attempt.
“Instead of the second impeachment trial, since Trump was already out of office, I would have preferred that we look at invoking the 14th Amendment resolution or something like that. I think that would have been more productive, and it would have had a greater likelihood of success because it didn’t take a two-thirds vote.”
But that moment has passed, Kaine said. “I’m not interested in Donald Trump anymore,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Chris Coons of Delaware said more Republicans would need to get on board with impeaching Trump in order to make another trial worthwhile.
“I think former President Trump is clearly, as was stated by Judge Luttig, a clear and present danger to the democracy of the United States,” Coons told Insider.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said the best course of action is for the select committee to turn all its evidence over to the Department of Justice – steps it has so far refused to do while hearings are underway – and for Garland to make a judgment call on prosecuting Trump. Pushing for a third impeachment seems futile to Reed, who predicted that such an attempt “wouldn’t be accepted by most of my colleagues.”
“We have seen, twice, that the Senate is not willing to hold Trump accountable,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey told Insider. “So it seems to me that the Justice Department, through the regular legal system, may be the venue.”
The Justice Department is currently conducting its own investigation into the January 6 insurrection. In the last few days, it has issued several subpoenas to individuals involved in Trump’s scheme to overturn the 2020 election results.
The recent revelations from the hearings could push Trump closer to facing criminal charges. The committee has laid out evidence that Trump could potentially be charged for breaking four other federal laws, including witness tampering, conspiracy to defraud the government, and obstructing an official proceeding.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Zoe Lofgren of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and January 6 committee co-chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi confer during a break during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in the Cannon House Office Building on June 9, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Time is running out
The recent revelations of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election comes as Democrats face a tough upcoming midterm elections.
If they try to block Trump from ever holding office again, they risk ignoring other issues plaguing Democrats now and losing the majority in both chambers in Congress — hindering President Job Biden’s ability to carry out his agenda.
Democratic strategist John LaBombard congratulated the select committee for orchestrating “an historic public accounting” of Trump’s gross dereliction of duty while in office, and urged politicians to point out how Republican’s claims about the 2020 election are out of step with voter’s current concerns.
“Independent voters are sure to take an even more skeptical eye to those candidates relitigating the 2020 campaign and pushing the lie that the election was rigged,” he said, though he added that “voters don’t often reward candidates of either party who are more focused on the past than the future.”
LaBombard urged Democrats to stay “laser-focused on the issues that matter most” including rising gas prices, inflation, and supply chain breakdowns.
President Joe Biden addresses the nation at the White House in Washington, DC on June 24, 2022 following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Others warned that the already charged political climate could become even more volatile if Democratic lawmakers pursue a third impeachment.
Robert Ray, a former federal prosecutor who defended Trump during his first impeachment trial, said that there could be another January 6-like riot if they carry out this plan.
“The best way to handle this — whether you like Trump or you don’t like Trump or you want him to hold off or you don’t want him to hold office — is to battle this thing out in the political process. It is not to use prosecution as a tool to prevent it from happening,” Ray told Insider.
Whether Democrats decide to take matters into their own hands or leave it to Garland, one thing is clear — time is running out.
Maryland Democrat and January 6 committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin said committee members are still ironing out their recommended next steps.
“We will have a whole set of sweeping recommendations … about what needs to be done to fortify ourselves against coups, insurrections, political violence, and election fraud, moving forward,” Raskin told reporters after a recent hearing.
He deflected when Insider asked whether impeaching Trump a third time is one of those moves the committee may recommend. “The Department of Justice is obviously the center of the law enforcement function for the federal government. And they, presumably, are following these hearings, and they will be in possession of all information that we’re going to be releasing,” Raskin said. “So they will have to make their judgments.”
Raskin insisted, however, that the committee is determined to send “a strong message from the House of Representatives … that these assaults on American constitutional democracy will not stand.”