President Donald Trump seemed to surrender his ferocious effort to hang onto power after Congress formally accepted the victory of President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday — but that was not enough for Democrats, who want him immediately removed from office, or to disgusted members of his team, who are quitting in droves.
Trump kept out of sight and offline Thursday, even as Facebook locked his account for the remainder of his presidency after he incited a mob attack on the Capitol on Wednesday that struck at the heart of American democracy.
As he hunkered down behind the White House gates, the political conflagration around him grew as officials from both parties and many of the people who worked with him in the West Wing unified to rebuke his behavior and warn of the threat he posed over the 13 days left in his presidency.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who will soon command the Democratic majority, argued Thursday that Trump’s continued presence in the Oval Office represented a grave threat to the Republic. They are demanding that his Cabinet remove him under the 25th Amendment.
If that does not happen, Pelosi suggested she would quickly ram through a second impeachment of Trump.
At the same time, a handful of high-ranking administration officials submitted their resignations, led by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as some conservative members of the Senate quietly pressured remaining officials to stay at their posts out of concern that the president, unchecked, would take action that could damage the country.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been one of Trump’s most loyal defenders, said that the president was partially accountable for the mob and labeled them “domestic terrorists” — one of the few Republicans to use that term.
In a written statement, Trump conceded that he would hand over power to Biden on Jan. 20. “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” the president said in the statement, issued shortly after Congress dismissed his allies’ objections to the electors in the predawn hours.
The statement had to be released through an aide’s Twitter account. The president has not appeared in person since then to confirm his commitment to its words, leaving some uncertainty about what could happen in the remaining days of his term.
The angry aftermath of the storming of the Capitol had Democrats and even some Republicans talking about whether Trump should not be allowed to finish his term.
“This president should not hold office one day longer,” said Schumer, who will become the majority leader with the seating of two new Democratic senators elected in Georgia this week. “The quickest and most effective way — it can be done today — to remove this president from office would be for the vice president to immediately invoke the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”
The likelihood of either happening seemed remote, but some Republicans joined in the call.
“All indications are that the president has become unmoored not just from his duty nor even his oath but from reality itself,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has been a critic of the president. “It’s time to invoke the 25th Amendment and to end this nightmare.”
Mick Mulvaney, a former White House chief of staff who had been serving as a special envoy for Trump until he resigned after the mob attack, said the discussion was understandable given the president’s behavior.
“It does not surprise me at all that the 25th Amendment is being discussed,” he told CNBC, adding that the president had become increasingly erratic. “Clearly he is not the same as he was eight months ago, and certainly the people advising him are not the same as they were eight months ago, and that leads to a dangerous sort of combination, as you saw yesterday.”
In addition to Mulvaney, more advisers and administration officials quit in protest, bringing the eleventh-hour resignations to more than a half-dozen. Former Attorney General William Barr, once one of the president’s most important defenders until he resigned last month, said in a statement to The Associated Press that the president’s actions were a “betrayal of his office and supporters” and that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”
Even as the wreckage of the attack was being swept away in the Capitol, questions swirled about how security for the building could be overwhelmed by the mob when it was well known that Trump’s supporters planned to rally in Washington on the day of the Electoral College count. Four people died, including a woman who was shot and three others who had medical conditions.
Defying the pressure, Congress proceeded to validate Biden’s victory in a nearly all-night session, voting down Trump’s allies, who objected to electors from two key states.
It was then left to Vice President Mike Pence, who had rebuffed Trump’s demand that he assert the power to unilaterally block confirmation of the election result as the president of the Senate and the presiding officer of the count, to formally announce the results.
“The announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States, each for the term beginning on the 20th day of January 2021, and shall be entered together with a list of the votes on the journals of the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Pence said at 3:41 a.m.
With that dry, ritualistic language mandated by parliamentarians, Pence formalized the defeat of his own ticket and Biden’s ascension to the Oval Office.