WASHINGTON – As the threat of a second impeachment loomed, U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged on Thursday that Joe Biden will be the next U.S. president, a day after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a stunning assault on American democracy as Congress was certifying Biden's victory.
Trump, who as recently as Thursday morning had continued to claim falsely that the election had been stolen from him, said his focus would now turn to ensuring a smooth transition to a Biden administration in a video released Thursday evening. Biden, a Democrat, is set to be sworn in on Jan. 20.
The president condemned Wednesday's violence, saying rioters had defiled the seat of American democracy.
"Serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime," Trump, a Republican, said. "And to all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know that our incredible journey is only just beginning."
The statement was a stark reversal for Trump, who faces growing calls for his resignation or ouster following Wednesday's assault. Trump has spent months insisting he prevailed in the Nov. 3 election due to widespread fraud, despite no evidence.
His exhortation on Wednesday to thousands of supporters that they march to the Capitol to protest the election results whipped up a mob that overran police officers and invaded the Capitol building, forcing members of Congress into hiding for their own safety.
Earlier, the top two Democrats in Congress had called for Trump's removal from office. With 13 days left in Trump's term, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to remove the president.
Absent that, they said Congress should move quickly to expel him through the impeachment process. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that typically oversees that process, said in a statement he supported immediate impeachment.
Pelosi told a news conference that Trump posed an ongoing danger to the country. "Yesterday the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America," she said.
CNN reported that a Capitol Police officer who responded to Wednesday's riots died, a development that could increase pressure on the administration or Congress to act. Four deaths were previously confirmed, including a demonstrator shot by authorities.
Members of Trump's Cabinet and allies of the Republican president have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of a president unable to discharge the office's powers and duties, a source familiar with the situation said. A Pence adviser said the vice president opposes using the amendment.
Congress formally certified Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's Nov. 3 election victory early on Thursday, hours after lawmakers were forced into hiding by hundreds of rioters who overwhelmed police and invaded the building. More than half of House Republicans and eight Republican senators voted to challenge the election results.
Trump has not condemned the extraordinary violence that unfolded after he encouraged supporters on Wednesday to march to the Capitol, despite pleas from close allies and senior members of his administration.
The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, delivered a statement in the briefing room on Thursday denouncing the attack but took no questions from reporters.
"Let me be clear: The violence we saw yesterday at our nation's capital was appalling, reprehensible and antithetical to the American way," she said. "We condemn it — the president and this administration — in the strongest possible terms."
Trump pledged in an early morning statement an "orderly transition" ahead of Biden's inauguration, but continued to claim falsely that the election was stolen from him.
The president has increasingly isolated himself in the White House, relying on a small group of diehard loyalists and lashing out at Pence and others who dare to cross him, four sources said.
A source familiar with the situation said Trump in recent weeks had discussed the possibility of pardoning himself. The White House declined comment. Constitutional scholars have said it is unclear whether the presidential pardon power can be used in that way.
Trump faces potential state legal actions when he leaves office, including a criminal probe in New York, that would not be covered by a federal pardon.
Trump also confronted a staff exodus. One Cabinet official, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, said she would resign, citing the violence.
Other Trump officials, including envoy Mick Mulvaney, the president's former chief of staff, also quit. More departures were expected.
Biden blamed Trump for the attack but stopped short of calling for his ouster.
"He unleashed an all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy from the outset. And yesterday was but the culmination of that unrelenting attack," Biden said at a news conference to announce his selection for U.S. attorney general, federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland.
Facebook Inc. said it would ban Trump posts until Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration. On Wednesday, Twitter Inc suspended Trump's account for 12 hours.
Dozens of Democrats have said Trump should be removed. At least two Republicans, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, also said he should go, with Kinzinger saying in a video that Trump had become "unmoored" from reality.
But absent action from the Cabinet, it was uncertain whether Congress — which is currently in recess — has time to start impeachment proceedings before Trump's term ends.
Several Democratic House members have already begun drafting articles of impeachment for Trump's role in encouraging Wednesday's lawlessness. Aides to McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had no immediate comment.
The Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump in December 2019 after he pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden, but the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit him in February 2020 on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
The assault on the Capitol was the culmination of months of divisive and escalating rhetoric by Trump and his allies around the Nov. 3 election, with the president repeatedly making false assertions that the vote was "rigged."
Rioters besieged the House chamber while lawmakers were inside. Security officers barricaded the chamber's door with furniture and drew their pistols before helping lawmakers and others escape.
Pelosi called on the chief of the Capitol Police, Steven Sund, to step down on Thursday, after the federal force charged with protecting Congress failed to prevent the invasion. Media reports said Sund had resigned.
New fencing was installed around the Capitol on Thursday ahead of Biden's inauguration.
Election officials of both parties and independent observers have said there was no significant fraud in the election. Biden received 7 million more votes than Trump in the national popular vote.
In a further setback to Trump, Democrats on Wednesday completed a sweep of the two U.S. Senate seats up for grabs in runoff elections in the state of Georgia, giving the party control of the chamber and boosting the prospects for Biden's legislative agenda.
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