Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate sought to persuade Mike Pence to forcibly remove Donald Trump from office by invoking the 25th amendment on Thursday, a day after a mob of the president’s supporters launched a violent attack on the US Capitol.
Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader in the Senate, said he and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, had telephoned Mr Pence to request that he invoke the amendment, under which a sitting president can be ejected from the White House if deemed to be unable to fulfil the duties of the office by the vice-president and the cabinet.
“Speaker Pelosi and I tried to call the vice-president this morning to tell him to do this,” Mr Schumer said at a press conference in New York. He added that Mr Pence’s office had kept the pair on hold for 25 minutes “and then said the vice-president wouldn’t come on the phone, so we are making this call public, because he should do it right away”.
Mr Schumer said that while Mr Trump “may have only 13 days left as president”, his alleged incitement of Wednesday’s violence had “demonstrated that each and every one of those days is a threat to democracy, so long as he is in power”.
Ms Pelosi echoed Mr Schumer’s call to invoke the 25th amendment and suggested that if Mr Pence did not co-operate, Congress could try to remove Mr Trump from office by impeaching him instead.
The concerted effort by Democratic leaders to remove Mr Trump during the waning days of his administration came as the president faced increasing isolation over the assault on the Capitol. Several members of his administration have resigned in protest over his conduct, while Facebook said it would close his accounts “indefinitely”.
It was unclear late on Thursday whether Mr Pence or other Republican leaders would co-operate with the Democratic push. In a carefully worded statement, a Trump administration official said the possibility of invoking the 25th amendment “hadn’t been brought to the vice-president’s office”.
A Republican congressional aide said there was no sympathy for Mr Trump in Congress, especially in the Senate, but that the rapidly evaporating support for the president would not necessarily translate into an effort to force him out.
“Whatever support that the Senate GOP conference as a whole had for the president ended yesterday,” the aide said. “Now, does that mean that they want to impeach him or remove him? I don’t see that that’s actually going to happen. I mean, it’s January 7, we’re not that far away.”
The resignations from Mr Trump’s administration included Elaine Chao, the US transportation secretary who is married to Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate majority leader.
Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s former acting chief of staff, also said he would resign as Mr Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland on Thursday. Matt Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser, quit alongside John Costello, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for intelligence and security.
“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,” Mr Mulvaney told CNBC.
Several White House aides have also departed, including Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to First Lady Melania Trump, and Sarah Matthews, a deputy press secretary, who said she was “deeply disturbed” by Wednesday’s events.
Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, made a two-minute statement to reporters on Thursday evening, which she said was “on behalf of the entire White House”.
Ms McEnany said the violence at the Capitol was “appalling, reprehensible and antithetical to the American way” and that the president and his administration “condemned” the events “in the strongest possible terms”.
“Those who are working in this building are working to ensure an orderly transition of power,” she added, before rushing out of the briefing room and refusing to take questions from reporters.
Other members of the president’s cabinet insisted they would stick it out despite the turbulence. Chad Wolf, acting secretary of homeland security, said in a statement that while the events at the Capitol were “tragic and sickening”, he would remain in his position “to ensure the department’s focus remains on the serious threats facing our country and an orderly transition to President-elect [Joe] Biden’s DHS team”.
Mr Trump has also come under criticism from former officials, including William Barr, the ex-attorney-general once seen as one of the president’s most loyal advisers.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Mr Barr, who resigned last month, said Mr Trump’s conduct as demonstrators stormed the Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters”, adding that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable”.
The statements and resignations speak to the outrage among some of the president’s closest aides and allies at his handling of Wednesday’s events. The outgoing president addressed his supporters in Washington that morning, reiterating his false claim that the election was rigged and telling them: “We will never give up. We will never concede.”
Mr Trump responded to the unrest by promising an “orderly transition” to the incoming Biden administration. In a statement posted on the White House Twitter account, he added: “I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out.”
Joe Biden, the president-elect, on Thursday said the previous day’s events had been “one of the darkest days in the history of our nation.
“What we witnessed yesterday was not dissent, it was not disorder, it was not protest — it was chaos,” Mr Biden said. “They weren’t protesters, don’t dare call them protesters. They arrived as mob insurrectionists — domestic terrorists.”
How does the 25th amendment work?
Even though there are only two weeks left of Donald Trump’s presidency, some in Washington have raised invoking the 25th amendment to the US constitution to remove him from office immediately.
The constitutional amendment was proposed in the wake of the 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy, and was intended to provide a blueprint in the event a president was incapacitated.
Under the amendment, a president can be relieved of his power if he is unable to discharge his duties, or if he is deemed as being unable to do so by others in government.
It is not easy to invoke the 25th amendment without the president’s assent. The vice-president has to sign a letter testifying that the president cannot fulfil his duties, with the assent of a majority of either the cabinet or another body designated by Congress.
If enough support is secured, the vice-president automatically takes on the role of acting president. If the president contests the decision, Congress votes on whether the president is able to continue functioning in the role. A two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress is required to override the president’s objections.
Parts of the 25th amendment have been invoked. Richard Nixon used the rule to appoint Gerald Ford as his vice-president after Spiro Agnew resigned. Ford then used it to take over as president following Nixon’s own resignation.
George W Bush also temporarily used the amendment twice, handing over power to his vice-president, Dick Cheney, while undergoing general anaesthetic for colonoscopies. He resumed control hours later on both occasions.
The amendment has never been used by others in government to remove a president.
Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor in Washington and Hannah Murphy in San Francisco
Get alerts on US politics & policy when a new story is published