WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats will give President Donald Trump one last chance on Tuesday to leave office days before his term expires or face an unprecedented second impeachment over his supporters' deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives plans to vote as soon as Wednesday on formal charges of misconduct, known as articles of impeachment, unless Trump resigns or Vice President Mike Pence moves to oust him under a provision in the U.S. Constitution.
The House is due to vote on Tuesday on a resolution calling on Pence, a Republican, to invoke within a day the 25th Amendment, a never-before used law that allows a majority of the Cabinet to strip the president of power if he or she is unable to discharge the office's duties.
Pence advisers say he is opposed to the idea.
The violence at the Capitol caused a serious rift between Trump and Pence, and the two men did not speak for days, although they did meet at the White House on Monday. A senior administration official said they discussed the riot.
"The two had a good conversation, discussing the week ahead and reflecting on the last four years of the administration's work and accomplishments," the official added.
If Trump has not stepped down and Pence has not taken action by Wednesday, Democratic leaders said they will bring his impeachment to the House floor, one week after the riot that forced lawmakers into hiding for hours and left behind five dead, including a police officer.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Tom Reed, a moderate Republican, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that he and House colleagues would introduce a censure resolution against Trump on Tuesday as an alternative to a "rushed, divisive" impeachment.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, told Democratic members on a conference call on Monday that a censure "would be an abdication of our responsibility," according to a source familiar with the call.
Democratic lawmakers introduced one article of impeachment on Monday, accusing Trump of inciting a violent insurrection with a fiery speech exhorting thousands of followers to march to the famous domed building where Congress was working to certify President-elect Joe Biden's Nov. 3 election victory.
"The president's threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action," said Pelosi.
With only eight days left in Trump's term, chances the Democratic drive will result in his removal appear remote.
Impeachment triggers a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is in recess and not scheduled to return to Washington until Jan. 19, the day before Biden is to be sworn in.
A Senate conviction requires a two-thirds vote, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to break with a president who has maintained an iron grip over his party for four years.
Democrats will take control of the Senate once the two winners of last week's runoff elections in Georgia are seated later this month, creating a 50-50 split and giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.
An impeachment trial could proceed even after Trump leaves office. Some Democrats have expressed concern that a trial could hamper Biden's agenda, slowing down confirmation of his appointees and distracting from legislative priorities such as a new coronavirus relief package.
Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, told Fox News on Monday he viewed the impeachment drive as "ill-advised" given how unlikely conviction appears to be.
If an impeachment trial is held, Biden said on Monday he hoped the Senate would be able to conduct normal business at the same time, perhaps by splitting its hours in half.
Trump, who initially praised his supporters even after the violence unfolded, delivered an uncharacteristically subdued video statement on Thursday denouncing the attack and vowing a smooth transition of power.
He did not, however, concede defeat in the election.
Trump has not been seen in public since the day of the Capitol siege, although he plans to travel to Texas on Tuesday to visit a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Trump's favorite means of communication was cut off last week when Twitter suspended his account permanently, saying it was concerned he could use it to incite further mayhem.
The president's actions have driven a wedge among Republicans, with a handful of lawmakers either calling for him to step down immediately or saying they will consider supporting impeachment.
Impeachment appears likely to pass: the lawmakers who drafted the formal charge say at least 214 of the chamber's 222 Democrats already support it.
The Democratic-led House impeached Trump in December 2019 for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, but the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him in February 2020.
Only two other U.S. presidents have been impeached, and none twice.
After last week's chaos, authorities are hardening security ahead of Biden's inauguration, which has already been dramatically scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As many as 15,000 National Guard troops have been authorized to deploy to Washington, where tourists have been barred from visiting the Washington Monument because of threats of more violence from some Trump supporters.
A federal law enforcement official told Reuters the FBI has warned that armed protests are planned for Washington and all 50 state capitals before Jan. 20.
(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Steve Holland; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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