President Donald Trump announced Friday he will skip Joe Biden’s inauguration in a final, unrepentant act of division as his presidency imploded amid demands that he step aside for the last 12 days in office.
“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th,” the US leader said on Twitter.
The statement, while not a surprise from the most divisive president in decades, drew a line through any idea that Trump might seek to spend his remaining moments in the White House helping his Democratic successor calm tensions.
Not since 1869 has an outgoing US president missed the inauguration of the incoming leader, a ceremony symbolizing the peaceful transfer of power.
Two days after Trump incited followers to storm Congress, his presidency is in freefall, with allies walking away and opponents calling for his removal.
Democrats in the House of Representatives, who already impeached Trump in a traumatic, partisan vote in 2019, said an unprecedented second impeachment of the Republican could be ready for a vote next week.
“We can act very quickly when we want to,” Representative Katherine Clark told CNN.
Whether Republican leaders of the Senate would then agree to hold a lightning fast impeachment trial before the January 20 transition is another matter.
– Too little, too late –
Senator Ben Sasse, one Republican who says he will “definitely consider” impeachment, recommended that Trump at minimum step back and let his vice president run the show in the dying days.
“I think the less the president does over the next 12 days the better,” he told NPR radio.
Trump, whose incitement of crowds assaulting Congress on Wednesday capped relentless efforts to overturn Biden’s November 3 election win, finally conceded defeat on Thursday and appealed for calm.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power,” Trump said in a short video.
However, the evidently reluctant concession, in which Trump failed to congratulate Biden or directly admit defeat, was too little, too late to calm outrage over his role in the Capitol invasion.
Five people died in the mayhem, including one woman who was shot dead and a Capitol Police officer who was pronounced dead from his injuries on Thursday. Flags over the Capitol were lowered to half-mast on Friday.
– Government exit –
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos became the second cabinet member to quit the government, telling Trump in a letter on Thursday that such “behavior was unconscionable for our country.”
Earlier, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, one of Trump’s longest serving cabinet members, announced she was departing over the “entirely avoidable” violence. A string of lower level officials have also left.
According to US media reports, the only reason the trickle hasn’t turned into a flood is the decision by senior figures to try and maintain stability during the transition to Biden.
Trump, however, appears to have lost the grip he once exercised on both the Republican party and his own staff as he rampaged through four years of one of the most turbulent presidencies in US history.
Speaking to CNN, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly, who served as Trump’s chief of staff for 18 months, said the cabinet should consider the 25th Amendment but believed the president had already been put into a box.
“He can give all the orders he wants but no one is going to break the law,” Kelly said.
Trump has even lost Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which published an editorial telling him “to take personal responsibility and resign.”
“It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.”
“Leave town,” advised former secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, suggesting Trump exile himself to his Florida golf club.
“Get on Air Force One, go to Mar-a-Lago and stay there for the indefinite future,” Johnson said on NPR.
– Biden faces grim inauguration –
Biden, who won seven million votes more than Trump, as well as a decisive majority in the vital state-by-state Electoral College, will be sworn in on the Capitol Steps under huge security.
Between drastic Covid-19 crowd restrictions, the absence of Trump, and a new “unscalable” fence thrown up around the congressional complex, there will be little of the ordinary inauguration vibe.
And Biden will immediately face extraordinary challenges, starting with his core campaign promise that he can “heal” the nation.
So far, the Democratic leader has carefully avoided weighing in on demands for Trump’s removal.
Impeachment of the president could present the incoming Democrat with an even more polarized landscape, further complicating the task of reuniting the country.
At the same time, the crisis has sparked such revulsion in Congress on both sides of the aisle that Biden may come into office with an unexpectedly bipartisan tailwind.
On Thursday, he accused Trump of mounting an “all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy” and called the assault on Congress “one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.”