As members of the House of Representatives began to debate an article of impeachment that accuses President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection, Rep. Joseph Morelle said “history will judge us if we don’t take this step.”
Morelle, the Democrat who represents New York’s 25th Congressional District that spans Monroe County, said that “Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric clearly demonstrate that he is unfit for the presidency. That is why this afternoon, I’ll be voting to impeach President Trump a second time—the first time in our nation’s history that a sitting president will be impeached twice.”
He added: “There can be no question that surely such a president is exactly the type of unchecked executive that our Founders had in mind when they entrusted the House of Representatives with the power of impeachment. We must make it clear to our children, our grandchildren, and to the generations to follow, that Donald Trump’s behavior is antithetical to American law, American democracy, and American values.”
House impeaches Trump
he House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon approved an article of impeachment charging President Trump with “incitement of insurrection.” He became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. The vote was 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Among local members of the House, Democrat Joseph Morelle and Republican John Katko voted for impeachment; Republicans Chris Jacob and Tom Reed voted against it. (See video of Morelle’s official remarks prior to the vote.)
In an early-afternoon briefing with reporters, Morelle addressed several questions that have been raised about the move to impeach Trump and remove him from office less than two weeks before his term as president ends.
“The bottom line is we have a responsibility,” he said. “The Constitution doesn’t say to us, if the president violates his oath or commits high crimes and misdemeanors in the last week or the last two weeks in office, that you can sort of let that go. People really feel (that) history will judge us if we don’t take this step.”
Morelle also noted that unlike the first impeachment of Trump in December 2019, this time several Republican representatives have said they plan to vote to impeach.
“Although I don’t agree very often (with) Liz Cheney, I think she has said very well why she’s voting for impeachment,” he said, referring to the Wyoming representative who is the No. 3 Republican in the House. He also pointed to Rep. John Katko, the Republican who represents New York’s 24th Congressional District, who on Tuesday said he would support impeachment.
Morelle said he thinks a number of Republican lawmakers are wavering.
“I think they believe in their heart of hearts that the president not only incited riot against the Capitol on (Jan. 6), but if you look at his tweets for several weeks leading up to Jan. 6, it was a call to arms against the American government. So, I think many of them are anxious to have the Trump presidency end and are concerned and are torn between party loyalty and what I think they deep in their hearts know is the right thing to do.”
Added Morelle: “I don’t know if there will be enough votes to convict (in the Senate), but I can tell you that much of the conversation here on the Hill is the growing number of Republican senators who actually believe the president violated his oath and not only are his actions impeachable, (they) deserve conviction, (and) expulsion and preventing (him) from running for federal office again. I don’t know if there will be a conviction; it’s going to play out for several weeks, I suspect. … But there is a growing chorus of Republicans—national, well-respected Republicans—who are calling for impeachment.”
When asked about Republicans who are afraid to vote their conscience because of the possible backlash by Trump supporters, Morelle responded: “You know, there’s an old line about those who are silent during times of great moral crisis, and the hottest place in hell being reserved for them. I think this is a time if you truly believe in the U.S. Constitution, if you believe in the rule of law, if you believe in American democracy, I think the choice is clear.”
Morelle also addressed the heightened security at the Capitol in advance of the impeachment vote and next week’s presidential inauguration. He said the complex “looks like a military installation. Which partly answers the question (that) people keep asking: Why impeach Donald Trump? Our security, our intelligence … have concluded there is a clear and present danger, and the manifestation of that is the physical wall being built around the Capitol and the tens of thousands of National Guard people (and other law enforcement personnel) who are here.”
With Democrats’ control of the House, Trump’s impeachment seems all but certain. However, achieving the two-thirds majority in the GOP-controlled Senate needed for conviction could be a steep climb. Some have argued in favor of another way to prevent Trump—and perhaps some members of Congress—from holding federal office: Article 3 of the 14th Amendment, which can be invoked against individuals who engaged in insurrection against the U.S. government.
“It’s certainly come up, (but) from our perspective right now, we want to stop the clear and present danger that Donald Trump is,” Morelle said. “I think there will be a long conversation—there’s going to be an investigation; there’s no question that today is not the end, and the Senate trial on the impeachment articles is not the end. There will be a months-long investigation that will look at the Capitol Police response, that will look at members of the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, the president; this is going to be a deep dive, and it will take months and months.”
To those who contend that impeachment risks deepening divisions among Americans, Morelle had a pointed reply: “There’s a certain irony to people who are particularly close to the president suggesting that his divisive words over the last several years but even more so since Election Day—where he continues to spew lie after lie about the results, where he incites people to violence—that somehow that is not divisive and that’s not against the national interest. But somehow calling him to account for those things, that will stop the healing process.
“I don’t think this is a yes-or-no question: you either heal or hold the president accountable. I think it’s clear we can do both, and we need to do both.”
Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.