YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A mob storms the U.S. Capitol. American democracy tested, but unbroken.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) You have to show strength and you have to be strong.
MS. ALCINDOR: President Trump’s words lead to a riot on Capitol Hill.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): This temple to democracy was desecrated.
MS. ALCINDOR: His supporters break into Congress.
FEMALE: (From video.) They broke the glass?
MS. ALCINDOR: And lay siege, but they fail to stop the will of the people: lawmakers still certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) They tried to disrupt our democracy; they failed. They failed.
MS. ALCINDOR: How did we get here?
PRESIDENT-ELECT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) Enough is enough is enough.
MS. ALCINDOR: And what happens now?
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) By inciting sedition, as he did yesterday, he must be removed from office.
MS. ALCINDOR: Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week.
MS. ALCINDOR: Good evening. I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Welcome to Washington Week.
It has been an historic and traumatic week in Washington, D.C. President Trump encouraged a violent mob to storm the U.S. Capitol, piercing the very heart of our democracy, after falsely claiming he won the 2020 election. There are just 12 days left in President Trump’s term, but amid them there are growing calls for him to resign or to be removed. House Democrats are drafting articles of impeachment again and some on President Trump’s Cabinet are talking about invoking the 25th Amendment to force him out. My sources tell me it’s very unlikely that Vice President Pence would agree to do that. Those close to President Trump say he is embarrassed and isolated. On Thursday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t hold back.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) The president has committed an unspeakable assault on our nation and our people. I join the Senate Democratic leader in calling on the vice president to remove this president by immediately invoking the 25th Amendment. If the vice president and the Cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.
MS. ALCINDOR: Joining us tonight are the best reporters covering Congress and the White House: Nancy Cordes, chief congressional correspondent for CBS News; Astead Herndon, national political reporter for The New York Times; and Jake Sherman, founder of the new Punchbowl News.
Jake, today a draft of the articles of impeachment have been circulating. The question on everyone’s mind: Could President Trump be removed from office in the final weeks of his term?
JAKE SHERMAN: It doesn’t seem likely, Yamiche. Thanks for having me. It doesn’t seem likely. There are only a couple days left here, but the House is undoubtedly in the next couple of days going to move toward an impeachment vote, potentially next week – most likely next week. The 25th Amendment is really not a live option for removing the president. There’s a lot of hurdles between invoking the 25th Amendment and getting the president out of office. But the – so the House will pass impeachment, then it goes over to the Republican – currently the Republican Senate. You would need a lot of Republicans to agree to remove the president. I will say this, though. In my time covering Congress and Donald Trump’s presidency, this is the most angry that Republicans have been with Donald Trump, the most disappointed, the most disgusted, pick your word here. They are very, very through with Donald Trump at the moment. They believe that he incited this violence, he sent his protesters to the Capitol. We don’t have to guess that; he told his protesters at a rally we’re going to march up to the Capitol, so they did. I was in the Capitol. They were loud, they were inappropriate, they were violent, and people died. So I just think that what Republicans are going to say is, listen, there’s 10, five, however many days when this starts left of Donald Trump’s presidency, and we should spare him and let him finish out his days and move on to Joe Biden on January 20th.
MS. ALCINDOR: Jake just indicated that it’s going to be super hard to get President Trump, it seems, out of office with just 12 days left in office. Nancy, what is the calculation here when it comes to all the things that we’re seeing, especially of course as these articles of impeachment have been circulating?
NANCY CORDES: Well, I interviewed David Cicilline today – he’s one of the authors of these articles of impeachment – and I asked him, you know, essentially, why do this now when the president is about to leave anyway. And what he said was, first of all, they need to send a message to this president and to future presidents and to other countries and to future generations that there are some things that Congress just will not accept, and the fact that this president is about to head out the door no matter what happens isn’t a reason not to send that message. As far as Republicans are concerned, not all of them but some of them, there is a silver lining here, and that is that if the Senate does vote to convict this president even after he has left office – and that is a possibility; they could take this up even after he’s gone – if they’re successful in mustering two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict him, he cannot run for president again. And for many Republicans, the notion of not having this president and the specter of another Trump run for office four years from now is pretty appealing, pretty motivating.
MS. ALCINDOR: Astead, Nancy saying it’s pretty appealing to Republicans to have Trump be out of the way. You’ve been covering the Senate race in Georgia. What has losing the control of the Senate done to Republicans, especially when it comes to the political calculations ahead?
ASTEAD HERNDON: Well, I think that there was a political message and then there’s the kind of more policy concerns going forward. The political message certainly is that the Republicans in that race made a bet with Trump that failed, and that is a warning sign for a Republican Party that cannot put together this Trump coalition without him at the top of the ballot. More importantly, you had a Democratic motivated base that really overwhelmed that, and I think that for those Republican senators the mess that Trump caused in that race – the split between the governor and the senators, the secretary of state, the infighting among kind of more traditional suburban Republicans and that core MAGA base – was not one that was worth it. And so I think that that, one, just kind of crystalizes the political problems Republicans have going forward, but then obviously it expands the possibilities for Joe Biden going ahead. Cabinet positions and policy are just expanded by the idea that he will now be able to get a tiebreaking vote with Vice President Kamala Harris through the Senate. There are those policy concerns, but I really think it’s a political rebuke just as big as we saw in November with Biden’s victory.
MS. ALCINDOR: We now have Phil Rucker, Washington – White House bureau chief for The Washington Post. Thanks so much for being here, Phil. Astead was just talking about the calculations, and of course the Republicans losing control of the Senate. I want to talk to you about what’s going on inside this White House. Georgia is seen as a rebuke, but there’s also, of course, all these resignations, Twitter suspending the president permanently today. What are you hearing about what’s going on in the White House? I’m hearing that there’s chaos, that tensions are as high as they’ve ever been.
PHILIP RUCKER: Yeah, I’m hearing the exact same, Yamiche. Our sources are telling us that the president feels under siege and he is an alarming – in an alarmingly fragile emotional and psychological state right now. He spent most of Wednesday fuming about Vice President Pence, angry with his loyal number two, not responsive to the needs of the Capitol. He was not engaged in the decision to deploy the military, the National Guard up there to help quell the unrest. He resisted pleas from his advisors to tell his supporters to go home and to stand down. He resisted recording the video that he ultimately grudgingly agreed to do last night, for the very first time acknowledging his electoral fate, which is that he lost the election and that there’s going to be a new president come January 20th. But this is a difficult time for the president, and the reality is there are very few advisors left around him. We’ve seen a number of resignations, and those who are the closest to him right now – Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, among others – are his biggest enablers. They’re the people who are giving the president misinformation, who are helping him believe these fantasies that he’s believed for the last two months about the election, and that has a lot of other people in the administration very concerned about how dangerous he might be as president in his final 12 days.
MS. ALCINDOR: And, Phil, you’re saying it’s a difficult moment for the president. It’s also a difficult moment, of course, for the nation. Let’s take a closer look at the breach on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The violence left five people dead. That, as the pandemic continues to kill thousands of Americans every day. President Trump now faces allegations that he incited a riot. In a speech an hour before violence broke out he encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) We won in a landslide. This was a landslide. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.
MS. ALCINDOR: What President Trump said is not true. He did lose the election. And the vice president’s role was only ceremonial. Jake, you were inside the Capitol as all this was happening. I saw your videos of the chaos as I was reporting from the White House. What did you see inside the building with protesters and with Capitol Police who some say failed to do their jobs?
MR. SHERMAN: Well, you know, clearly it’s a failure of a lot of people when a crowd, a mob – not a protest – a mob of people end up in the Capitol running free and roaming free throughout the otherwise or the previously secure hallways. I was sitting in the House periodical press gallery, where I sit every day. Everyone here knows where that is. And I walked out to – down the hallway. And I knew that people had gotten into the building. And people were smashing – feet from me – smashing their way through this glass door. We’ve now seen the images all over, a police officer fell. And they were – next thing I knew – and we were hunkered down in an office for three hours. People were banging on our doors. People were armed. People – there was a SWAT team going throughout the hallway.
We weren’t actually evacuated, Yamiche, it’s fascinating, for several hours. We were like sitting ducks, a bunch of reporters. We kept saying to ourselves, what should we do? And I kept saying, nothing. We don’t have – we’re not armed. We have no way of defending ourselves against large crowds of people. So, I mean, it was an alarming episode, to say the least. And the scary thing is we always talked about in the Capitol whether – you know, if people got in, would we be able – would police ever be able to get them out? It’s such a large and sprawling building – you know, seven buildings put together. It’s a large complex. Thankfully, with the help of the FBI, ATF, Capitol Police, Secret Service, D.C. Police they were able to clear the place out and secure it once again. But really, an episode that I’ll never forget.
MS. ALCINDOR: We will never forget this episode. And what you’re describing just gave me goosebumps because it’s so scary.
Nancy, you’ve been in that building, that Capitol building, so many times. It’s one of the most secure buildings in the world. When I go through there I have to get checked, all my stuff gets scanned. How did this mob get in? How did this happen?
MS. CORDES: Well, in some ways it may have simply been a failure of not just intelligence but of imagination. You know, everyone here at the Capitol is used to huge protests. That’s just sort of a fact of life here on Capitol Hill. But those are usually peaceful protests. People are willing to get arrested, almost asking to get arrested. They want to make their point peacefully. This was the absolute opposite. You had hundreds if not thousands of people banging on those doors. They came with weapons. And they just simply overwhelmed the Capitol Police force.
And I think – you know, when I talk about a failure of imagination, I just don’t think anyone had ever conceived that something like this could happen because it had never happened before. And when I started the day on Wednesday, here at the Capitol, the last thing on my mind was the possibility that this huge crowd – and I saw those people gathering in the streets on my way to work before dawn. They were already out there by the hundreds. It never occurred to me that they might en masse storm the Capitol. And clearly law enforcement officials hadn’t considered that either.
But we’re now in a really unusual situation, Yamiche, where the House sergeant-at-arms, the Senate sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol Police chief have all stepped down, a week and a half before the inauguration. So you’ve got all the power at the top here on Capitol Hill on law enforcement gone before one of our biggest high-security events, the inauguration of the next president, at a time when there are great concerns that these individuals could try to strike again.
So yes, tonight the Capitol is secure. But I can tell you, a lot of lawmakers, a lot of aides still feel very nervous, because they’re worried that something like this could happen again. And they themselves are still being hounded at the airport, on airplanes, wherever they go. Lindsey Graham had to have a full complement of law enforcement around him at the airport today, because people were screaming at him. This is not going away.
MS. ALCINDOR: Astead, you’ve been doing so much reporting when it comes to right-wing extremism. Did you see this coming? What has your reporting told you about whether or not a moment like this could happen?
MR. HERNDON: Yeah. In some ways, I think for some of us who have been not in Washington but across the country over the last three or four years – not only at Trump rallies but at kind of smaller events organized online – you’ve seen this violence. You’ve seen this type of mob activity before. It has been a feature of the Trump presidency and the Trump era. It’s been frankly, though, out of the mainstream case.
This is kind of communities that have organized locally and have been really motivated by the really potent mix of conspiracy and bigotry – a kind of – a mess of misinformation, but also one that does not kind of believe in the real tenets of multiracial democracy and does not respect those folks’ right to really have their say on this government. You know, I remember being in northwest Arizona last year at an event called “Trump Stop.” And a man put his gun on the table and said: If Donald Trump loses, we’ll have another civil war.
That’s the type of language you’ve heard at these type of things for a while. What happened yesterday was a culmination of those events that came to Washington, to the seat of democracy, to the kind of hallow places where we don’t think this is possible. But it has been growing and fermenting around the country for years.
MS. ALCINDOR: After this week, the split in the Republican Party is growing. Almost every Republican I’ve talked to this week was obsessed with this question. Goes to what Astead was just talking about: What is the path forward for the party? The GOP divisions will be on full display on inauguration day. Vice President Pence is going; President Trump is not. My sources tell me that tensions inside the GOP are as high as it gets, and that Trump is furious at Vice President Pence and congressional Republicans. Nancy, you’ve been reporting on this all week. What is going on inside the GOP?
MS. CORDES: Well, there is a lot of finger pointing, to put it lightly. A number of Republicans kind of outright turning on some of the individuals who really led the charge this week to vote against the Electoral College results, to challenge them. They were accused of selling their supporters and President Trump’s supporters on this fantasy that perhaps he had won the election after all, that there was massive voter fraud, that the election could be overturned. And they are really coming under withering attack not just from some of their colleagues here on Capitol Hill – some Democrats have directly called on individuals like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to resign – but from the business world, Hawley lost a book deal, and even from some of their Republican mentors.
We have seen a lot of Republicans sort of come out and say that they’re very concerned with what the president has said. I haven’t heard too many Republicans come out and say that they themselves wish that they could take some of the things they had done or said back, that they wish that perhaps they hadn’t joined this movement to try to challenge election – the Electoral College results. So you know, a lot of finger pointing but not a lot of soul searching, I’d say, just yet.
MS. ALCINDOR: Soul searching. Phil, there has been a lot of soul searching since President Trump got into office. We’ve covered him together. We’ve seen his false allegations, his false information. Talk to me a little bit about what you reported this week, which is that President Trump was raging uncontrollably about perceived acts of betrayal. And President Trump, in some ways, never really trusted establishment Republicans. What are you hearing?
MR. RUCKER: He never did, Yamiche. Part of his whole political brand has been that he’s the victim, right? That the elites, the people who are in power in Washington but also in the business world, in New York, that they were out to get him. And that he was – he was an outsider. That’s how he developed so much support out around the country, how he got elected president. And but what he’s seen right now is it’s all coming home to roost in these final couple of weeks. He is losing support. He’s losing members of his Cabinet. He’s losing members of his staff. But he’s also losing allies on Capitol Hill.
Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his closest friends, golfing partners, fiercest defenders in the Senate over these last four years, basically said: It was an interesting ride, but it’s over. I’m done with Trump. I’m moving on. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has told other senators, according to our reporting, that he does not intend to ever speak to Donald Trump again. The two have been estranged these last few weeks, not been on speaking terms, but McConnell’s finished, and his wife, Elaine Chao – the transportation secretary – she resigned on Thursday. And I think we’re going to continue to see this. We just in the last hour or two saw that Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, has said that she’s done with Trump, she thinks he needs to leave office right away, and we very well could start hearing from some more in the days and hours to come.
MS. ALCINDOR: Phil’s talking about that strained relationship between President Trump and congressional course – and congressional Republicans. Jake, you wrote in Punchbowl News this week that Kevin McCarthy and President Trump got into a screaming match. Is this bond between President Trump and congressional Republicans, and even maybe the vice president, is it broken?
MR. SHERMAN: You know, the transaction that they had relied on for many years to kind of smooth over at least internally their relationship or in their minds their relationship, that transaction is up. That transaction was put up with kind of disgusting behavior and behavior that we really can’t stomach in exchange for conservative judges and conservative policies and things of that nature. That’s up, right? Donald Trump is going to be president for another couple days and then he’s gone, so I think the incentive structure has changed. Now, Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, has a bit different of a calculus. He wants to win the majority back. He believes there’s a lot of people in his conference, Republican members of the House, who are from districts that Donald Trump is very popular in and who, frankly, support Donald Trump, and he doesn’t want to get crosswise with them. But a lot of people would argue – and I think this is a fair argument to make – that the reason that his rank and file is supportive of Donald Trump is because they have no alternative. If McCarthy doesn’t split with Trump then they don’t split with Trump, and they think – and McCarthy thinks he’s not splitting with Trump because they’re still with Trump. So it’s just – it’s a complicated situation. But I think – I think everyone’s right here, which is Republicans are just – they’re tired of him, and this was the final straw.
MS. ALCINDOR: Just two weeks before the inauguration came these deadly events. President-elect Joe Biden has condemned this week – on Thursday, Biden said this.
PRESIDENT-ELECT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday there wouldn’t have been – they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all – we all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable, totally unacceptable.
MS. ALCINDOR: Now, in both the House and the Senate, Democrats have control. That comes after Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the Georgia Senate races. That would have been our top story this week in any other week. Astead, President-elect Joe Biden is talking about unity and healing the soul of the nation. Will it work after all that we have witnessed?
MR. HERNDON: You know, this is a real core belief of Joe Biden. This is something that is not just a kind of political move from him, but it’s how he kind of sees and understands the universe, and has understood his kind of negotiating of Washington in his decades in the Senate, and so this is not – this is something that is going to be around and has frustrated some. You know, I’ve talked to people who are in those meetings with him in the transition who are trying to get him to budge, to embrace kind of unilateral executive orders, to prioritize things like combating racial injustice or other issues over the idea of bipartisanship and kind of Washington civility, but Joe Biden has responded to them in those meetings saying he is certain that there is going to be a break from kind of Trumpism among Republicans and that he is going to hold onto that belief. That is something that we’re going to just have to see where that goes in the next couple of months – is this a movement where he is going to be able to really see that? But you know, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock served him a big step on that front because he does not have to deal with a Mitch McConnell Senate anymore. The question is whether he will be so concerned with kind of healing hearts and minds that he – or will there be a focus on kind of the policy change that could happen, because whether congressional Republicans break with Trump or not what we know is that the base has been with him, and the American people on the conservative – on the conservative side have still been motivated by him. I don’t know if that’s something that Joe Biden can heal in rhetoric, but that is something that he can target in terms of policy.
MS. ALCINDOR: We only have about 10 seconds left, but Phil, I want to just go to you. What do you make of just what things look like now with the GOP at one point wanting to look at President Trump for midterms? Just 10 seconds left.
MR. RUCKER: You know, Yamiche, we’re really going to have to see because this is such an evolving story, but I wouldn’t count Trump out. We’ve seen through history that politicians can disappear for a while and have a resurgence later, so you know, we’ll see.
MS. ALCINDOR: That’s it for tonight. Thank you to our panel: Nancy Cordes, Astead Herndon, Phil Rucker, Jake Sherman. Incredible reporting this week.
This is a heartbreaking time. The images of this week’s attack are burned into our collective souls. But democracy persisted. United we still stand. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. Be sure to check out our Washington Week Extra, where we’ll continue this conversation. You’ll find it online on our social media and on our website.
I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Stay safe. Good night from Washington.