Two cabinet members quit over Trump mob attack

Pence opposes invoking constitution to force president out

By: AFP      Published: 10:30 AM, 8 Jan, 2021
Two cabinet members quit over Trump mob attack

Two members of Donald Trump's cabinet resigned Thursday with days left in the administration in protest over the storming of the Capitol by a mob of the president's supporters.

The education secretary and transportation secretary -- the only two women in Trump's inner cabinet -- both said they could no longer remain in office after the violent rampage on a ceremonial session of Congress that certified President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

"That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me," said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a conservative stalwart who had served throughout the administration.

"Impressionable children are watching all this, and they are learning from us," she said in a letter to Trump.

"They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday."

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Republican Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell, earlier said it was "a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed."

"It has deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside," she added.

Several Democratic lawmakers dismissed her resignation as posturing. "Rats leaving a sinking ship," as Jackie Speier, a California congresswoman, said on Twitter.

Democrats said that the secretaries should have instead worked to remove Trump from power under the Constitution's 25th Amendment, which allows a majority of the cabinet to vote to remove the chief executive if he is deemed unfit to serve.

Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney -- who had predicted Trump would give up power graciously -- said he was quitting his diplomatic position as US envoy for Northern Ireland.

"I can't stay here, not after yesterday. You can't look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form," Mulvaney told CNBC television.

"Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in," he said.

Trump in a video later Thursday finally acknowledged that he would be leaving office on January 20 and condemned the violence but did not congratulate Biden.

- 'Stay on' -

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a key architect of Trump's hawkish stance on China, resigned hours after the unprecedented scenes at the Capitol.

Another departure was Stephanie Grisham, a former White House press secretary now working as spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump.

US media reported that Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, had been barred from entering the White House -- apparently in retaliation for Pence's decision to ignore Trump's demand that he block the certification of Biden's win.

In another sign of upheaval, Trump on Thursday withdrew his nomination of Chad Wolf for the permanent job at the head of the Department of Homeland Security, where he is now acting chief.

This came just after Wolf said he found the action by Trump's supporters in the halls of Congress "sickening" and urged the president to "strongly condemn" the violence.

The outrage across Washington is feeding growing speculation that more senior Trump administration figures may be leaving.

Particular focus has been put on Robert O'Brien, who holds the key post of national security advisor.

O'Brien raised eyebrows during the siege of the Capitol by saying he had spoken with Pence and was "proud to serve with him," not mentioning Trump.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a heavyweight supporter of Trump during his tumultuous one-term presidency, begged top officials to stay put for the sake of stability.

"To those who believe you should leave your post now to make a statement, I would urge you not to," he said, urging O'Brien in particular to "stay on."

Trump pledges smooth transition

President Trump appealed for "healing and reconciliation" Thursday following unprecedented scenes of violence at the US Capitol, pledging a smooth transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden.

In a video message aiming to calm tensions after his supporters stormed the US Capitol as Biden's election victory was being certified by lawmakers Wednesday, Trump voiced outrage at the clashes that saw one woman shot dead by police at the seat of US government.

"A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation," he said.

Trump released the video following growing calls for his removal after his fired-up supporters breached the Capitol Wednesday and sent lawmakers scrambling for safety.

Egged on by an aggrieved Trump speech, a flag-waving mob broke though barricades and swarmed inside the Capitol, ransacking offices and entering the usually solemn legislative floors.

Security forces fired tear gas in a four-hour operation to clear the Capitol. Police said a woman, reportedly a Trump partisan from southern California, was shot and killed and three others died in the area in circumstances that were unclear.

Trump's response to the violence, taking to social media to repeat false claims he had made about election fraud in his speech, sparked outrage and suspensions from all the major platforms.

But he struck a more conciliatory tone in Thursday's 160-second video, describing his sole term in office as "the honor of my lifetime."

And he offered an unequivocal denunciation of Wednesday's violence, saying "tempers must be cooled and calm restored."

"The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country," he said.

"And to those who broke the law, you will pay."

Pence plan

US Vice President Mike Pence is opposed to using the constitution's 25th Amendment to force President Donald Trump from office, despite pressure from democrats and some Republicans, the New York Times reported Thursday.

While Pence has not spoken publicly about invoking the mechanism, never used before in US history, the newspaper cited a person close to the vice president saying he is against the radical move.

The calls to remove Trump came after supporters who he had encouraged invaded and shut down the US Congress Wednesday as it was poised to certify the election victory of Trump's rival, Democrat Joe Biden.

Democrats demanded action even though Trump only has 13 days left in office.

"This is an emergency of the highest magnitude," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

"By inciting sedition, as he did yesterday, he must be removed from office." 

The Times said Pence's stance is supported by several cabinet members, whose backing would be necessary to carry out a 25th Amendment removal.

The newspaper said those officials "viewed the effort as likely to add to the current chaos in Washington rather than deter it."

Meanwhile Democrats in the US House of Representatives said that if the 25th Amendment is not invoked they will move quickly to impeach Trump.

"We have a limited period of time in which to act," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, who led the successful impeachment of Trump a year ago, before the president was ultimately acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.

"I support bringing articles of impeachment directly to the House floor," he said in a statement.

25th Amendment

President Trump faced a growing chorus of calls Thursday to be removed from office under the 25th Amendment for inciting the mob violence that swept through the US Capitol one day earlier.

Adopted in 1967, the 25th Amendment lays out the provisions for a transfer of power from a US president who dies, resigns, is removed from office or for other reasons is unable to fulfill his or her duties.

It has been invoked on several occasions, notably by Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1974 and for presidents undergoing a surgical procedure so that power could be shifted temporarily to the vice president.

In October of last year, there was talk of Trump possibly invoking the amendment when he became ill with Covid-19, but in the end he took no such action.

Now, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are leading appeals for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the amendment in the waning days of Trump's term, which ends January 20.

Schumer, Pelosi and others in and out of government are speaking out after Wednesday's shocking scenes in which an angry mob egged on by Trump overran security at the US Capitol, rampaging for hours and disrupting a proceeding in which Congress ultimately certified that Joe Biden beat Trump in the November 3 election and will be America's next president. 

US lawmakers began to address the question of power transfer from the chief executive in the late 1950s amid the ill health of president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It took on added urgency following the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy, and the 25th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 and ratified by the required three-fourths of the 50 US states two years later.

Section 3 of the 25th Amendment addresses the transfer of presidential powers to the vice president when the chief executive declares that he or she is unable to fulfill the powers and duties of the office.

Section 4 addresses a situation in which the vice president and a majority of the cabinet determine that the president is no longer able to discharge their duties. This section has never been invoked.

- Invoked on three occasions -

Section 3 has been invoked three times.

The first was in July 1985 when president Ronald Reagan underwent surgery under general anesthesia for removal of a cancerous polyp from his large intestine.

Vice president George H.W. Bush was made acting president for about eight hours while Reagan was in surgery. 

President George W. Bush temporarily transferred power to vice president Dick Cheney in June 2002 and in July 2007 while he underwent routine colonoscopies under anesthesia.

Following Reagan's serious wounding in a 1981 assassination attempt, a letter invoking Section 3 was drafted but it was never sent.

Under Section 3, the president informs the president pro tempore, or presiding officer, of the Senate -- currently Republican Chuck Grassley -- and the speaker of the House of Representatives, currently Pelosi -- in writing that he is unable to discharge the duties of the office and is temporarily transferring power to the vice president.

Under Section 4, the vice president and a majority of the members of the cabinet inform the leaders of the Senate and House that the president is incapable of discharging his duties and the vice president becomes acting president.

If a president contests the determination that he or she is unable to fulfill their duties, it is up to Congress to make the decision.

A two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate would be needed to declare the president unfit to remain in office.

Former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe has claimed that former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein raised the possibility of invoking Section 4 against Trump after he abruptly fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017.

Rosenstein has denied the allegation.