BELOIT — As members of Congress in Illinois and Wisconsin call for the removal of President Donald Trump from office following the violent riots that led to the U.S. Capitol being overrun, a Beloit College Political Science professor says Wednesday’s events may have been years in the making.
Assistant Professor Philip Chen, whose work focuses on how political communication can have an impact on political behavior and public opinion, said he was unfortunately “not surprised” by the mob action fueled by unfounded claims of voter fraud.
“The delegitimization of the electoral process has been part of the playbook from Trump and the Republican Party going back to claims of voter fraud as a way to build support for passing voter identification laws,” Chen said. “We should not be surprised that this came to a culmination the way it did.”
After the Capitol was secured, Congress reconvened on Wednesday night to certify the election win by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In both chambers, lawmakers gave impassioned speeches decrying the violence, including remarks made by prominent GOP leaders.
“I think what we saw after they reconvened was symbolic,” Chen said. “It was an image to the insurrectionists or sympathizers that their tactics failed and that is what you heard in a lot of their remarks. It’s naïve to think it’s going to change people’s minds.”
Wednesday’s events renewed and heightened calls by many for removing Trump from office by way of the Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. If the vice president and a majority of presidential cabinet secretaries find that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” they could submit that in writing to Congress.
The president can dispute the claim, and Congress would be tasked with ruling on the matter by way of a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate lawmakers to keep the vice president in charge.
Section 4 has never been invoked or carried out.
“There hasn’t been enough support for this,” Chen said, referring to calls to remove Trump. “What I would look for in the coming days would be if Trump does things that cause greater concern.”
University of Wisconsin Law School Professor David S. Schwartz said the road ahead on invoking the 25th Amendment could be a legal gray area.
“The interpretative aspects of the law would likely be deemed a non-justiciable political question, meaning that the courts would say it’s up to the relevant political actors, including Congress, to decide things like what “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” means,” Schwartz said.
Congress would have 21 days to rule on conflicting assertions between Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet members and Trump, as Trump has less than 13 days left in his presidency.
“That could be essentially running the clock out on this situation,” Chen said.
On Thursday, Trump committed to an “orderly transition” of power in a statement released through a spokesperson after Twitter and Facebook restricted his accounts, with Facebook announcing Thursday that Trump would be banned from the social media platform until the transition of power to Biden was complete.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment.
“What happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president,” Schumer said in a statement on Thursday. “This president should not hold office one day longer.”
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said Congress “should impeach” Trump for a second time.
“Invoke the 25th amendment and he can be gone in hours. His conduct is unbecoming a President,” Pocan wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, became the first Republican to call for Trump’s removal after issuing a statement on Thursday.
“Sadly, yesterday it became evident that not only has the President abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the People’s House, he invoked and enflamed passions that gave fuel to the insurrection that we saw. When pressed to denounce the violence, he barely did so, while victimizing himself and seeming to give a wink and a nod to those doing it,” Kinzinger said on Twitter.
Chen said he felt it will be important to watch what Republican lawmakers say in the coming days but noted it could be too soon to tell what the impact of Wednesday’s chaos could mean for the country.
“If the language we saw from Republicans last night continues and we see an effort to change the narrative, I think it has the potential to have a lasting impact on the American public,” Chen said. “But if it’s the continued rhetoric of ‘us versus them’ I am not sure there would be a huge difference.”