House Democrats call for accountability while Republicans call for unity and rail against 'cancel culture' in impeachment debate

·23-min read
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  • The House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump on Wednesday for the "incitement of insurrection" in the wake of last week's deadly Capitol siege.

  • During the House debate, Democrats argued Trump must be held accountable for provoking the violent mob, while Republicans called for "unity and healing" and defended the president's rhetoric and election lies.

  • Trump is the first president in American history to be impeached twice. His impeachment is also the most bipartisan in US history.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday impeached President Donald Trump for the second time after he incited a deadly riot at the US Capitol that resulted in five deaths and multiple injuries.

Trump, who has just a week left in his term, is now the first US president to have been impeached twice. He is facing an unprecedented level of legal and political risk after he whipped thousands of his supporters into a frenzy at a January 6 rally and then urged them to march to the Capitol to stop Congress from formalizing President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

The pro-Trump mob went on to lay siege to the Capitol, swarming the building, ransacking offices, stealing and vandalizing property, and trying to hunt down Vice President Mike Pence and other lawmakers.

In the wake of the failed insurrection, a slew of Republicans finally broke ranks with the president as congressional Democrats called for his impeachment.

Watch the proceedings below:

Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump

Rep. Liz Cheney
Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The House voted 232-197 to impeach the president. With 10 House GOP members siding with their Democratic colleagues, this was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in US history.

Here are those Republican lawmakers:

  • New York Rep. John Katko

  • Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney

  • Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger

  • Michigan Rep. Fred Upton

  • Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

  • Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse

  • Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez

  • Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer

  • South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice

  • California Rep. David Valadao

In closing remarks, Republicans reiterated calls for unity and healing while Democrats demanded accountability

steny hoyer
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. PBS/YouTube

Minority Whip Steve Scalise called for both parties to condemn violence.

"I've seen the dark evil of political violence firsthand, and it needs to stop," said Scalise, who was shot during a congressional baseball practice in 2017. "I oppose this rushed impeachment, brought forward without a single hearing. And, by the way, the Senate will not even take this up until President Trump is out of office. So let's keep that in mind — it will only serve to further divide a nation that is calling out for healing."

Democratic House leaders, meanwhile, argued that their colleagues across the aisle were shirking responsibility.

"We ask ourselves, what do we do? What is our responsibility? What should we say?" Hoyer said. "In light of only the Civil War as an analogy, it is the first and only physical presence other than the 9/11 attack on this nation, which came from abroad and had a plane aimed at our Capitol dome. This attack was not from abroad, it was, as Liz Cheney said, summoned, assembled, and inflamed by the president of the United States of America."

Hoyer added: "We do this today not for politics. We don't need this for politics. Georgia showed that."

Democratic Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher accused Republicans of 'gaslighting'

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher
Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. C-SPAN

"I rise today in support of the article of impeachment and in opposition to the gaslighting that is masquerading as debate in this chamber today," Pannill Fletcher, a Texas Democrat, said. "I was in this chamber when the president assembled and unleashed a mob to attack the United State Capitol and the United States Congress, the elected representatives of the people. By doing so, he incited an insurrection against our representative democracy itself. If that is not an impeachable offense, then what is?"

'Blood is on this house' and 'we must do something about it,' said Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell

Terry Sewell
Rep. Terri Sewell. Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Sewell, a Democratic lawmaker from Alabama, delivered an impassioned call for accountability after personally enduring the riot.

GOP Rep. Doug LaMalfa lashed out at Democrats, the 'left-wing media,' and 'big tech'

doug lamalfa
Rep. Doug LaMalfa. C-SPAN

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the second annual impeachment show extravaganza, brought to you by the censors in left-wing media, the fact-check ministers of shutdown and big tech, and the Democrat Party," the California Republican said.

Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon said she can't 'take seriously' GOP calls for 'unity' without Trump being held responsible for his actions

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

"I, too, urge my colleagues to unite, but to unite in love of country and to hold this president accountable," Scanlon said. "What unites our country is respect for the rule of law. Without accountability for those who would shatter the rule of law by overturning a presidential election, we cannot take seriously the cries of being a united people."

The House Speaker's podium, which was stolen by pro-Trump rioters on January 6, was carried back into the Capitol and set up for Pelosi to use on Wednesday

capitol protest podium
A pro-Trump rioter carries away Pelosi's lectern during the violent siege of the Capitol on January 6. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross rebuked Republicans for refusing to seek accountability for the deadly insurrection

donald norcross
NJ Rep. Donald Norcross. C-SPAN

Rep. Donald Norcross, a New Jersey Democrat, condemned Republicans for calling for "unity and healing," rather than holding the president accountable for the deadly results of his incitement.

"A police officer was killed and what I hear is 'time to heal.' He's not even buried yet," Norcross said. "No one is above the law, not the president if he has four years or four days. We must do the right thing for all Americans because he must be held accountable."

QAnon-supporting Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed she's being censored as she slammed Democrats for allegedly supporting violence

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) walks through the U.S. Capitol as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, U.S., January 13, 2021.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Newly sworn-in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Georgia Republican, accused Democrats of encouraging violence in a fiery speech from the House floor during which she wore a mask reading, "CENSORED."

"Democrats' impeachment of President Trump today has now set the standard that they should be removed for their support of violence against the American people," she said.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Cori Bush made a fiery speech calling to impeach the 'white supremacist in chief'

Cori Bush
Rep. Cori Bush. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Freshman Democratic congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri gave an impassioned speech calling to impeach Trump, who she referred to as "the white supremacist in chief."

"If we fail to remove a white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist insurrection, it's communities like Missouri's First District that suffer the most," Bush said, referring to the district she represents.

She continued: "The 117th Congress must understand that we have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives. The first step in that process is to root out white supremacy starting with impeaching the white supremacist in chief."

Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler: 'My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision'

jaime herrera beutler
Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler. C-SPAN

Republican congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state made a highly-anticipated floor speech announcing that she would vote to impeach Trump.

"I am not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail. I'm afraid patriots in this country have died in vain. I'm afraid injustice will prevail," Herrera Beutler said.

"But truth sets us free from fear," she added. "It has no shadows where darkness can hide. My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I'm not choosing a side, I'm choosing truth. It's the only way to defeat fear."

Democrats in the chamber broke into applause after Herrera Beutler finished speaking. She is one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the president.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy: 'The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters'

kevin mccarthy
Kevin McCarthy C-SPAN

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave one of his sharpest condemnations of Trump yet when he spoke on the House floor.

"The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," McCarthy said. "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

The California Republican went on to shoot down conspiracy theories that antifa agitators infiltrated the pro-Trump demonstrations to spark violence.

"Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that," McCarthy said. "And conservatives should be the first to say so."

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz's speech went off the rails as he ranted about the 'Biden crime family'

matt gaetz
Matt Gaetz. C-SPAN

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, another one of Trump's most stalwart defenders in Congress, gave a meandering and off-topic floor speech in which he complained about the so-called Biden crime family.

  • Fact check: No one in the Biden family has been charged with a crime, though the president-elect's son, Hunter, is under criminal investigation over his financial activities.

Gaetz went on to congratulate Trump for pointing out "unconstitutional behavior, voting irregularities, concerns over tabulations, dead people voting," and other purported issues with the 2020 election.

  • Fact check: The 2020 election was the safest and most secure in US history. The vast majority of concerns raised about voting irregularities and election fraud have come from Republicans themselves and have been thrown out by courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities in the election, and every state has certified its results, the Electoral College cast its votes, and Biden's victory has been formalized as of last week.

Gaetz also compared when pro-Trump insurrectionists "tore through" the Capitol to when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "tore through" Trump's State of the Union speech.

  • Fact check: Pelosi's decision to tear up Trump's speech did not result in anyone dying, any theft, or destruction to property other than the speech.

McConnell's aide confirmed he will not have the Senate reconvene to hold an earlier impeachment trial

Mitch McConnell
House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not bring back the Senate early to kick off an impeachment trial, his press secretary confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

That means a Senate trial would not start until after Biden takes office, at the earliest.

Rep. Cedric Richmond said some Republicans are 'co-conspirators' in the insurrection and urged them to 'man up, woman up' and defend the Constitution

cedric richmond
Rep. Cedric Richmond. C-SPAN

In his last floor speech before he leaves Congress to join the Biden administration, Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said Trump "put the domestic terrorists on notice by saying, 'Stand back and stand by.'"

Richmond was alluding to Trump's response when he was asked during a presidential debate last year to condemn white supremacists for their role in trying to incite violent riots during the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Trump said, referring to the far-right neo-fascist group that supports him. "But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem."

Speaking on Wednesday, Richmond said that Trump "summoned" extremists to Washington, DC, "directed them to march on the Capitol, and then he sat back and watched the insurrection."

"Some of my colleagues, some of which may well be co-conspirators, in their latest attempt to placate and please this unfit president, suggest that we shouldn't punish Trump for his actions in order to unify the country," Richmond continued. "That is the climax of foolishness. Stand up, man up, woman up, and defend this Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, including Donald J. Trump."

Republicans embarked on a misleading crusade against 'cancel culture'

jim jordan
Jim Jordan. C-SPAN

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan spent most of his time decrying "cancel culture."

"The double standard has to stop, and frankly the attack on the First Amendment has to stop," Jordan said. "Do you have a functioning First Amendment when the cancel culture only allows one side to talk? When you can't even have a debate in this country ... it needs to stop, because if it continues, it won't just be Republicans who get canceled, it won't just be the president of the United States, the cancel culture will come for us all."

GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of California echoed Jordan, saying, "If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted ... suppressing free speech is not the answer."

He continued to say that the president "simply told the crowd" at his rally "to protest peacefully and patriotically, and the vast majority of them did."

Fact check: At the January 6 rally, the president called on his supporters "to fight" and march to the Capitol, adding, "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."

It's also unclear what Jordan was referring to when he said the president had been "canceled," given that Trump has full access to the podium at the White House briefing room and a press corps dedicated to reporting what he says to the public.

Republicans repeatedly claimed that social media companies want to "cancel" them in the wake of the Capitol siege, pointing to Twitter's decision to permanently ban Trump from its platform, and Facebook and Instagram's decision to block him from posting until at least the inauguration.

Twitter did not ban Trump to "cancel" him. In a statement announcing its decision, the company said it suspended the president because his supporters were actively using his tweets to plan domestic terrorist attacks on the US Capitol and state capitols across the country.

The far-right app Parler was also booted from the Apple and Google app stores and Amazon's web hosting service after the companies determined that violent extremists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists were using Parler to plan more armed insurrections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi teared up while recounting the 'day of fire' when Trump supporters besieged the Capitol

nancy pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. C-SPAN

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the floor around 12:30 p.m. ET and delivered a passionate plea for lawmakers to hold the president accountable.

The California Democrat's voice appeared to shake as she recalled the "day of fire" on which Trump supporters besieged the US Capitol last week.

"Those insurrectionists were not patriots," she said. "They were not part of a political base to be catered to and managed. They were domestic terrorists and justice must prevail."

Pelosi then turned her attention to Trump, saying the mob was "sent here by the president with words such as a cry to, 'Fight like hell.'"

"Words matter," she said. "Truth matters. Accountability matters."

As the House debated impeachment, CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell 'hates' Trump

President Donald Trump and House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Oval Office. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The top Senate Republican has grown more and more furious with the president in the days since the Capitol siege. That anger was compounded because many Republicans believe Trump played a central role in costing the GOP its majority in the Senate and paving the way for a Democratic-controlled legislative and executive branch.

On Tuesday evening, The New York Times reported that McConnell believes Trump committed multiple impeachable offenses and is "pleased" at the prospect of his impeachment. Axios later reported that the Kentucky Republican is inclined to vote to convict Trump following a Senate trial. If McConnell does vote to convict, it would be a remarkable ending to the two men's relationship after years of moving in lockstep with one another.

Last week, as Congress convened to finalize Biden's victory in the November general election, McConnell sharply condemned Trump's efforts to overturn the results and said his own vote to certify the results was the most important one he had ever cast in 36 years of public service.

The House began voting on rules surrounding the article of impeachment

house vote on rules of impeachment articles

After initial statements were made, the House moved to vote on the rules surrounding the article of impeachment.

Once the rule was passed, the House moved on to two hours of debate over the article, with a final vote coming around 4:30 p.m. ET.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern: 'If this isn't an impeachable offense, I don't know what the hell is'

jim mcgovern
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern. PBS/YouTube

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern responded to Republican claims that Democrats objected to finalizing Trump's victory in 2017 just as GOP lawmakers objected to finalizing Biden's this year.

Democrats objected "as a protest vote" in 2017, McGovern said, adding that Democrats all accepted Trump's victory the day after the election, and that then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton conceded the day after as well.

"None of us pushed conspiracy theories ... that somehow the president won in a landslide," McGovern said, referring to Trump's lie that he defeated Biden in the 2020 election.

"The bottom line is this: this Capitol was stormed. People died because of the big lies that were being told by this president and by too many people on the other side of the aisle," he said. "Enough. It was unforgivable. Unconscionable. And coming up on this floor and talking about whataboutism and trying to make these false equivalencies, give me a break."

He continued: "The president instigated an attempted coup in this country. People died. Everybody should be outraged, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. If this is not an impeachable offense, I don't know what the hell is."

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan spouted a fountain of lies and misinformation about the election

Jim Jordan
Rep. Jim Jordan. Leah Millis/Reuters

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, who has long been one of Trump's staunchest congressional allies and recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, used his time to call Democrats out for what he said was hypocrisy given that they objected to counting electoral votes in January 2017, as Congress was set to finalize Trump's victory of Hillary Clinton.

Jordan then went on to parrot Trump's lies and misinformation about the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

Among other things, he claimed the state's Supreme Court "unilaterally extended the election to Friday," that the secretary of state "unilaterally changed the rules, went around the legislature in an unconstitutional fashion," that "county clerks in some counties, and you can imagine which counties they were, let people fix their ballots against the law, cure their mail-in ballots in direct violation of the law," and more.

Fact check: None of these claims are true. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not extend the date of the general election, it extended the deadline by which mail-in ballots could be received provided that they were postmarked by Election Day. The secretary of state also did not "unilaterally" change the rules surrounding election administration in Pennsylvania, as multiple judges ruled.

And Jordan's claim that country clerks allowed people to cure their ballots "in direct violation of the law" also holds no water because it is perfectly legal to "cure" ballots in Pennsylvania.

Freshman GOP congresswoman quoted Martin Luther King Jr. before equating the violent insurrection with Black Lives Matter protests

nancy mace
Rep. Nancy Mace. PBS/YouTube

Mace was recently sworn in for her first term after winning a congressional race in South Carolina with Trump's endorsement. But she has sharply criticized the president in recent days over his role in inciting the deadly insurrection.

Mace said Wednesday that while the House has "every right" to impeach the president, she believed the way this impeachment was proceeding raised "questions about the constitutionality of this process."

She continued: "I believe we need to hold the president accountable. I also believe that we need to hold accountable every single person, even members of Congress, if they contributed to the violence that transpired here."

Mace then quoted Martin Luther King Jr. before attempting to draw an equivalence between the violent attempted coup at the Capitol last week and the anti-racism demonstrations that swept the country last year after the police killing of George Floyd.

"If we're serious about healing the divisions in this country, Republicans and Democrats need to acknowledge that this is not the first day of violence," she said. "Our words have consequences ... there is violence on both sides of the aisle."

Fact check: The overwhelming majority — 93%, according to one report — of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 were peaceful. And while a small minority of protesters engaged in rioting and looting, both rioters and thousands of peaceful protesters were met in many cases with a hyper-aggressive police response.

In perhaps the most notorious example, Secret Service and law enforcement authorities were seen using tear gas and pepper spray on peaceful protesters in Washington, DC, to clear the way for a presidential photo op.

But last week, the pro-Trump mob laid siege to the Capitol building as Congress attempted to ratify the presidential election. This was a direct attack on democracy but Republican lawmakers tried to conflate looting and skirmishes with police at social justice protests and a coordinated, violent attack instigated by the president.

At the siege, one Capitol Police officer was seen taking selfies with violent pro-Trump insurrectionists, while another was seen directing them around the Capitol as they swarmed the building. Additional reporting since the riot revealed that many members of the mob itself were active law enforcement officers and ex-military personnel.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer lashed out at Jim Jordan for being 'Trump-like' and denying reality

steny hoyer
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. PBS/YouTube

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer gave a fiery speech on the floor in which he highlighted the statements from three out of the six Republican lawmakers — Reps. John Katko, Liz Cheney, and Adam Kinzinger — who came out in favor of impeachment before the proceedings kicked off.

And then Hoyer turned his sights to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a longtime conservative and one of Trump's most loyal attack dogs on Capitol Hill.

"I see that the gentleman from Ohio is on the floor," Hoyer said. "He likes to say that we Democrats were elected and the first thing we wanted to do was impeach this president. And he's shaking his head in agreement because like the president of the United States, he denies the facts. Trump-like. Fake news."

The Maryland lawmaker went on to point out that in 2017, 2018, and early 2019, Democrats repeatedly voted to table motions to impeach the president. He said that even though some Democrats shared the view that Trump was dangerous, they were not confident that a solid case could be made.

"There was no rush to judgment," Hoyer said.

"The reason I rise today ... is to recognize the contributions that Al Green of Texas has made to getting us to this place," he said, referring to the Democratic lawmaker who brought forward multiple impeachment resolutions that were tabled before Trump was first impeached in late 2019.

"Is there little time left? Yes. But it is never too late to do the right thing," Hoyer said.

Republicans call for unity while Democrats call for accountability

nancy pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sanitizes the gavel after Vice President Mike Pence walked off the dais during a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 Electoral College results on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

After the House convened on Wednesday, a theme immediately emerged: Republicans argued against impeachment, saying it would be too "divisive" and that the country needed "unity." And Democrats demanded accountability.

"We need to recognize we are following a flawed process," said GOP Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. "We need to recognize that while the House may be done with this matter after today's vote, it will not be done for the country, it will not be done for the Senate, and it will not be done for the incoming Biden administration. The House's action today will only extend the division longer than necessary."

Democrats struck a different chord, with Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts saying in his floor speech, "Every moment Donald Trump is in the White House, our nation and our freedom is in danger. He must be held to account for the attack on our Capitol that he organized and he incited."

"The damage this building sustained can be repaired," he added, "but if we don't hold Donald Trump accountable, the damage done to our nation could be irreversible."

National Guard troops were seen sleeping in the halls of the Capitol as the House convened

national guard capitol
Members of the National Guard walk through the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 13, 2021, ahead of an expected House vote impeaching US President Donald Trump. Getty Images

As the government grapples with the chaos that gripped the Capitol last week, thousands of National Guard troops were deployed to Washington, DC, to protect the Capitol and President-elect Joe Biden leading up to Inauguration Day.

On Wednesday, as the House convened to consider impeaching the president and as violent Trump supporters continue threatening lawmakers online, photos posted online showed scores of troops sleeping in the hallways of the Capitol.

Pence refused to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office

Mike Pence Donald Trump
Vice President Mike Pence. Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House passed a resolution late Tuesday calling on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president from office. The resolution said that if Pence did not act within 24 hours, the House would move forward with impeachment.

Pence sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the resolution was passed indicating that he would not take that drastic step because he believed it would be unconstitutional and divisive.

The FBI and DOJ are focusing on 'significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy' after the riot

capitol siege riot ladder
Rioters clash with police using big ladder trying to enter Capitol building through the front doors. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

FBI and Justice Department officials said Tuesday that the "scope and scale" of criminal conduct they're investigating from the rioters is "unprecedented."

The acting US attorney in Washington, DC, said investigators are focusing on "significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy" in the wake of the siege.

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