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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in both parties and members of President Donald Trump’s own administration were engaged in discussions on removing Trump from power following the insurrection in the Capitol by his supporters.
The lawmakers and officials were discussing the efforts even though Trump has less than two weeks in office. The talks began Wednesday afternoon as Trump first refused to forcefully condemn the violence and then excused the assault on the Capitol. Senior Trump administration officials began the discussions about the need to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment — the forceful removal of Trump from power by his own Cabinet.
According two people involved in the talks, staff-level discussions on the matter took place across multiple departments and even parts of the White House. No member of the Cabinet has publicly expressed support for the move — which would make Vice President Mike Pence the acting president — though several were believed to be sympathetic to the notion, believing Trump is too volatile in his waning days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
There did not appear to be public support for the move among members of Trump’s Cabinet, especially after Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao resigned in protest Thursday following the Capitol attack. But officials across the government went so far as to study up on the procedures for declaring Trump “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Under the 25th Amendment, Trump could dispute his Cabinet’s finding, but the Cabinet could quickly reaffirm its position, keeping Pence in power while the question fell to lawmakers.
Those discussions come as several key Democrats on Capitol Hill, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, are calling on the Cabinet to remove him. Most Democrats, and many Republicans, put the blame squarely on Trump after hundreds of protesters bearing Trump flags and clothing broke into the Capitol on Wednesday and caused destruction and mass evacuations. The president had urged the supporters to protest as Congress was counting the electoral votes that confirmed Biden’s win.
In a statement, Schumer said the attack on the Capitol “was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president.” He said Trump “should not hold office one day longer.”
Schumer said Pence and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and immediately remove Trump from office. Otherwise, he said, it’s up to Congress.
“If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president,” Schumer said.
In the House, three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were launching a new impeachment effort. Articles of impeachment announced by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California say Trump “willfully made statements that encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — imminent lawless action at the Capitol.”
The House impeached Trump in 2019, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him in early 2020.
At least one House Republican also called for Trump’s removal. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a frequent Trump critic, said in a video on Twitter that Trump is “unfit” and “unwell.”
Kinzinger said the president “must now relinquish control of the executive branch voluntarily or involuntarily.”
Former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who’s clashed with Trump for years, said he doesn’t think invoking the 25th Amendment is realistic because of the support it would need from Cabinet members and because of the short time left in Trump’s term. But he said in an interview that he supported the decisions both by some White House and administration officials to quit and others who are remaining “to ensure that basically the guard rails stay where they should.”
Flake added: “We’ve got two weeks here, and let’s make sure we get to the inauguration.”
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.