A fiery debate opened in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday over an effort to remove President Donald Trump from office for inciting supporters who carried out a deadly rampage at the Capitol last week, while Trump denied wrongdoing.
Democrats pushed Republican lawmakers to disavow Trump's false claim that President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the Nov. 3 election was illegitimate - the very claim that enraged Trump's supporters and prompted the violence in Washington that killed five including a police officer.
Republicans refused to concede that point, instead defending their unsuccessful effort last week to challenge the results of the election.
Making his first public appearance since the Jan. 6 riot, Trump defended the remarks he made to supporters at a rally before they stormed the seat of Congress and lambasted Democrats for pushing ahead with a drive to impeach him for an unprecedented second time.
"What I said was totally appropriate," Trump told reporters as he left for a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border wall near Alamo, Texas, his first public foray since the Capitol assault. "I want no violence."
The Republican president did not answer a reporter's question about whether he would resign.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to vote as soon as Wednesday on an article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting insurrection unless he resigns or Vice President Mike Pence moves to oust him under a provision in the U.S. Constitution.
The House will vote later on Tuesday on a resolution calling on Pence, a Republican, to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, a never-before used power that allows a majority of the Cabinet to strip the president of power if he or she is unable to discharge the office's duties.
Pence advisers say he is opposed to the idea.
PARTISAN BATTLE LINES
At a House Rules Committee debate setting the timeline and procedures for Tuesday's debate, lawmakers previewed the potentially emotional battle over the resolution with angry exchanges over Republican efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of Biden's sweeping election win.
House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern challenged Republican Representative Jim Jordan, who Trump gave a Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday, to declare that Biden won "fair and square and the election was not stolen."
Jordan refused to utter those words and defended his challenges to the Electoral College result saying, "I followed the process the Constitution prescribes" when there are concerns over a state's election results.
"I am stunned that after all that has happened we cannot get a definitive answer," McGovern responded as the two lawmakers sparred and talked over each other.
If Trump has not stepped down and Pence has not taken action by Wednesday, Democratic leaders plan to bring impeachment to the House floor.
Three Democratic lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19 days after being locked down for hours with other colleagues in the Capitol, including Republicans who did not wear a face mask, to avoid the pro-Trump mob.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Tom Reed, a moderate Republican, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that he and House colleagues would introduce a censure resolution against Trump on Tuesday as an alternative to a "rushed, divisive" impeachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, told Democratic members on a conference call on Monday that a censure "would be an abdication of our responsibility," according to a source familiar with the call.
With only eight days left in Trump's term, chances the Democratic drive will result in his removal appear remote.
Impeachment would trigger a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is in recess and not scheduled to return to Washington until Jan. 19, the day before Biden is to be sworn in.
A Senate conviction requires a two-thirds majority of those present, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to break with a president who has maintained an iron grip over his party for four years.
Democrats will take control of the Senate once the two winners of last week's runoff elections in Georgia are seated later this month, creating a 50-50 split and giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote once she is sworn in.
An impeachment trial could proceed even after Trump leaves office. Some Democrats have expressed concern that a trial could hamper Biden's agenda, slowing down confirmation of his appointees and distracting from legislative priorities such as a new coronavirus relief package.
TRUMP TO BORDER
Until his departure for Texas, Trump had not been seen in public since the day of the Capitol siege.
Trump's favorite means of communication was cut off last week when Twitter suspended his account permanently, saying it was concerned he could use it to incite further mayhem.
The president's actions have driven a wedge among Republicans, with a handful of lawmakers either calling for him to step down immediately or saying they will consider supporting impeachment.
Impeachment appears likely to pass: the lawmakers who drafted the formal charge say at least 218 of the 222 Democrats in the Democratic-led House already support it.
The House impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring Ukraine's president to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him in February 2020.
Only two other U.S. presidents have been impeached.
After last week's chaos, authorities are hardening security ahead of Biden's inauguration, which has already been dramatically scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.