Thu, 21 Jan 2021

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers' push to impeach him in the last days of his presidency is "absolutely ridiculous."

Speaking to reporters for the first time since thousands of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday to try to upend his defeat for reelection, Trump rejected any contention that he was responsible for the mayhem that left five people dead.

Trump had urged thousands of his supporters at a rally near the White House to "fight" against lawmakers certifying that he had lost his reelection contest to Democrat Joe Biden. But the president said Tuesday, "It's been analyzed, and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate."

Hours after police restored order at the Capitol, lawmakers certified the Electoral College vote showing Biden defeated Trump in the November election. Biden now will be inaugurated in eight days as the country's 46th president, ending Trump's four-year term.

Trump offered his comments as he headed to the southwest border with Mexico to inspect the wall that he had built to thwart illegal immigration, which Trump considers one of his top achievements as president.

He contended that the impeachment effort against him is a "continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics," his description of earlier investigations targeting him - that Russia helped him win the 2016 election, and his 2019 impeachment after he solicited Ukraine's help in digging up dirt against Biden ahead of the November election. The Senate acquitted him last February in the impeachment case.

Trump said he wants no more violence as Biden takes office but said the impeachment effort brought by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is "causing tremendous anger."

The House is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution calling for Vice President Mike Pence and members of Trump's Cabinet to use their constitutional authority to remove Trump from office as unfit to serve.

The measure, which is expected to pass, sets a 24-hour deadline for Pence to respond, but he has given no indication he supports the removal of Trump. That would set the stage for a House vote Wednesday on impeachment.

"The President represents an imminent threat to our Constitution, our Country and the American people, and he must be removed from office immediately," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a written statement on Monday.

Aside from Pence, no Cabinet member has given any public indication of supporting Trump's ouster in the waning days of his presidency through use of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to declare a president "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

Trump and Pence met late Monday at the White House for the first time since last week. Pence had angered Trump by rebuffing his entreaties to reject the Electoral College votes from several states Biden narrowly won, giving him the presidency.

A senior administration official said Trump and Pence "reiterated that those who broke the law and stormed the Capitol last week do not represent the America First movement backed by 75 million Americans (who voted for Trump) and pledged to continue the work on behalf of the country for the remainder of their term."

Members of the National Guard stand inside anti-scaling fencing that surrounds the Capitol complex, Jan. 10, 2021, in Washington. Members of the National Guard stand inside fencing that surrounds the Capitol complex, Jan. 10, 2021, in Washington, amid intense security measures ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Jan. 20, 2021.

Even though Trump's four-year term expires at noon January 20, the four-page proposed House impeachment resolution said Trump has "demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law."

The impeachment resolution cites Trump's unfounded accusations that he was cheated out of a second term by voting and vote-counting irregularities, his pressure on election officials in the southern state of Georgia to "find" him more than 11,000 votes to overtake Biden's margin of victory in the state, and his statements at a rally last Wednesday urging thousands of supporters to march to the Capitol to pressure lawmakers to overturn the election outcome.

A total of 218 Democrats have signed on to the resolution, ensuring a majority in the 435-member House without any Republican votes against the outgoing Republican president.

But it is unclear whether House leaders would immediately send the resolution to the Senate for a trial on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office, given that his term ends next week.

Biden said it is his "hope and expectation" that the Senate could simultaneously hold an impeachment trial and confirm his Cabinet appointments after he takes office, while also approving more aid for the flagging U.S. economy weakened by the soaring coronavirus pandemic.

He said Monday of the rioters, "It is critically important that there'll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage - that they be held accountable."

Biden also told reporters, "I'm not afraid of taking the oath outside," referring to next week's swearing-in ceremony, which traditionally takes place at the U.S. Capitol's west steps, one of the areas where people stormed the building.

Even if Trump has already left office, a Senate impeachment conviction after his term ends would bar him from holding federal office again.

Republican Congressman Tom Reed said in a New York Times opinion piece that he would join an unspecified number of House colleagues in introducing a censure resolution against Trump on Tuesday as an alternative to a "hasty impeachment."

"If our leaders make the wrong decision in how to hold him accountable, it could damage the integrity of our system of justice, further fan the flames of division, and disillusion millions of Americans ─ all while failing to accomplish anything," Reed wrote.

If he is impeached again, Trump would hold a singular distinction among 45 U.S. presidents in the 245-year history of the United States, by becoming the only chief executive to be impeached twice.

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