WASHINGTON: Congressional Democrats on Monday (Jan 11) formally began the process of impeaching President Donald Trump for a historic second time, accusing him of "incitement of insurrection" over his supporters' deadly storming of the US Capitol.
The move - which threatens to torpedo the single-term president's future political ambitions - could make for a frenetic culmination of four years of controversy ahead of Joe Biden's Jan 20 inauguration.
Democrats introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet to remove Trump as unfit for office under the US Constitution's 25th Amendment.
But Republicans blocked its immediate adoption and Democrats followed up by introducing an article of impeachment of Trump for "incitement of insurrection".
Speaker Nancy Pelosi hit out at House Republicans, accusing them of enabling Trump's "unhinged, unstable and deranged acts of sedition to continue."
"Their complicity endangers America, erodes our Democracy, and it must end," she said in a statement.
The House is now scheduled to vote on Tuesday evening on the demand for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, and Pelosi will give him 24 hours to respond.
After that, she said, Democrats would move forward with an impeachment vote.
Biden has not publicly backed impeachment. But in Delaware, where the president-elect was receiving his second dose of the coronaviru vaccine, he told reporters: "I've been clear that President Trump should not be in office. Period."
Trump has been largely silent in recent days - making few statements and holding no news conferences. He has been banned from Twitter, his favoured public platform, for language that could incite violence.
He plans to travel Tuesday to Texas in one of his final trips as president, reportedly to claim success in delivering on his pledge to build a border wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico.
As Democrats began to act, the Capitol building was open to lawmakers and staff but under tight security and ringed by a metal fence after Wednesday's assault by Trump supporters that left five people dead.
HISTORIC SECOND IMPEACHMENT
Inside, some windows and doors that were broken and breached by rioters remained boarded up, while reinforced glass on doors near the Rotunda bore cracks from repeated battering.
The attack on Congress shook the core of American democracy and drew international condemnation. It has ignited a new effort to remove Trump, who is accused of whipping up the mob into storming the chambers where lawmakers were certifying Biden's Nov 3 win.
Speaking in the building's exalted Rotunda, House Democrat Katherine Clark said she felt "profoundly angry" about the invasion but expressed confidence the impeachment would be carried out.
"Every single day that this president is in office is a day of crisis for this country," Clark, a member of House leadership, told AFP.
"He has incited a seditious mob to come and overthrow our government and he needs to be held accountable for that and removed from office."
Commentary: Congress can impeach Trump after he leaves White House. But leaving him to law enforcement is the better option
Trump was already impeached once by the Democratic-controlled House in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine's president to dig up political dirt on Biden.
He was acquitted by the Republican-majority Senate.
If the House again votes to impeach, Trump would be the first US leader to be charged a second time with "high crimes and misdemeanours".
Even with time running short, House Democrats likely have the votes to impeach Trump again and congressman David Cicilline, who introduced the resolution, told reporters afterward he expects it will find Republican backing.
"This was an attempted coup to overthrow the government, and we have a responsibility as Congress to respond to that," said Cicilline.
Although two Republican Senators - Pat Toomey and Lisa Murkowski - have publicly called on Trump to resign, Democrats are unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump in the 100-member Senate and remove him from office.
The impeachment effort is nevertheless seen by Democrats as worthwhile.
While any conviction would likely occur after the president has left office, it would disqualify Trump, who is considering a run in 2024, from holding public office again.
Trump was joined by Republic congressman Mo Brooks, who is facing censure in Congress after telling the crowd it was time to "start taking down names and kicking ass."
Despite the crackdown, Trump supporters have threatened new action in coming days both in Washington and state capitol buildings.
Senate rules mean the upper chamber would likely be unable to open an impeachment trial before Jan 19.
Some Democrats, for their part, have expressed concern that a Senate trial would hamper Biden's efforts to get his cabinet confirmed and quickly lay out his agenda, starting with the fight against the coronavirus and the need to support the economy.