During a visit to a portion of newly constructed border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley, Trump warned against the effort in Congress to hold him accountable.
“The impeachment hoax is a continuation of the greatest and most vicious witch hunt in the history of our country and is causing tremendous anger and division and pain, far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the U.S.A., especially at this very tender time,” Trump said.
Trump for the first time addressed the calls from Democrats and even some Republicans for Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove him from office before his term expires.
“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” Trump said. “As the expression goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ ”
Washington is seeing a heightened police and military presence in and around the city, and law enforcement authorities are bracing for future violence in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
Trump at first hesitated to tell his supporters to stand down when they stormed the Capitol. He was captivated by the spectacle playing out on live television and entranced by the notion that the rioters were fighting for him, people with knowledge of the events said. And when he issued a video last Wednesday afternoon telling the rioters to “go home,” he also declared his support for them by saying, “We love you.”
Trump changed his tune here in Texas on Tuesday. Reading from a script, the president seemed to instruct his supporters not to rise up in violence. “Now is the time for our nation to heal. And it’s time for peace and for calm. Respect for law enforcement is the foundation of the MAGA agenda,” he said, referring to his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump deflected a reporter’s question about his “personal responsibility” in the Capitol attack as he boarded Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews for the flight to Texas.
“People thought what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said, claiming that he had seen this view reflected across the media. In fact, he has been almost universally condemned for his remarks, including by many of his Republican allies.
Trump then drew a comparison to racial justice demonstrations last summer and suggested that other political leaders were more culpable for violence related to those events than he was for what happened at the Capitol last week.
“If you look at what other people have said — politicians at a high level — about the riots during the summer, the horrible riots in Portland and Seattle, in various other places. That was a real problem, what they said,” Trump said. “But they’ve analyzed my speech and words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody, to the T, thought it was totally appropriate.”
On Capitol Hill, however, some of Trump’s allies differed with that assessment as the drumbeat for impeachment grew.
The No. 3 Republican in the House, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced late Tuesday that she would vote to impeach Trump, saying there has “never been a greater betrayal” by a U.S. president.
“The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence,” Cheney said in a statement. “He did not.”
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he disagreed with Trump that his comments were “totally appropriate.” The spokesman added that McCarthy told House members on Monday that the president bore blame.
And while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to comment, a person who has spoken to him says he is open to convicting Trump in an impeachment trial and thinks the president is likely to have committed impeachable offenses but wants to hear evidence.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement, “We all bear responsibility to reflect on the rhetoric leading up to the abhorrent violence of last week, including the president.”
Trump has resisted some entreaties to take responsibility for the mob, claiming that he did not know his supporters would literally storm the Capitol and that he did not want them to do so. He has dismissed concerns from his lawyers and other aides that he might have legal liability for his instigation, according to a senior administration official, who, like some others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal details.
Trump continues to say privately that he won the election, another senior administration official said, but is no longer talking about trying to stay in office after his term has ended.
Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer, said that Trump’s first instinct always has been to lie and try to bulldoze his way through any sort of turmoil in his life — and that his response to the Capitol attack has been no different.
“His father trained him to see the world only as winners and losers, and he’s never going to acknowledge he’s a loser,” O’Brien said. “He has no remorse and no regret about any of it. It’s what makes him such a damaged and damaging man. He doesn’t have any of the minimal guilt or regret that a healthy, stable individual has.”
Last week’s events have quickly made Trump a pariah. He is poised to be impeached for the second time — the first president in U.S. history to achieve that distinction — when the Democratic-led House brings an article of impeachment for a vote on Wednesday. Meanwhile, he has been silenced on social media because of messages from him that instigated violence, and he is being shunned by much of corporate America.
A poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University found that Trump’s overall approval dipped to 33 percent, tied for the lowest the pollster has recorded, with majorities holding him responsible for the Capitol attack and favoring his removal from office or his resignation.
Trump sought to escape this dark reality Tuesday by flying to the U.S.-Mexico border in a bid to burnish his presidential legacy as a crusader against illegal immigration. He toured a portion of the wall on the dusty banks of the Rio Grande, with soaring steel beams forming an imposing monument to his anti-immigrant agenda. Trump brandished a Sharpie and signed his autograph on a piece of the wall.
Trump’s hope is that history remembers him not for encouraging a coup against democracy, but for erecting a physical barrier to keep foreigners out — an apostle of law and order, as he sees himself.
“He’s going to do anything and everything to leave a stamp of ‘Trump was here’ on the national body politic before he heads permanently to Mar-a-Lago,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said, referring to Trump’s Florida resort home.
But, Brinkley added, “anything Trump does now, he is a greatly diminished figure. He shrunk into Thumbelina size. He can act big at the wall, but he’s really tiny because of the way he publicly responded to the siege at the Capitol.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who traveled with the president Tuesday, spent four hours with him Friday helping to orchestrate the border wall trip and other events later this week. The objective, Graham said, is to give Trump daily obligations in his final full week as president and to “not look back on the past.”
“We’ve laid out a plan for him, every day to do something,” Graham said.
The Rio Grande Valley continues to be the busiest section of the border for illegal crossings. Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection identified these sections as its top priority for border wall construction, the Trump administration ended up building relatively few miles of new barriers there.
A major impediment to construction efforts in the Rio Grande Valley has been resistance from local landowners. Most of the land the government needed to build new barriers is privately owned. In addition, some of the locations are on river levees, which adds to the expense and difficulty of construction.
Instead, the administration has built hundreds of miles of barrier on public lands farther west, where the government already controlled the land but where there are comparatively fewer migrant crossings than in the Rio Grande Valley.
David Lapan, a former senior official in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, said the irony of Trump’s border-wall visit Tuesday was that the Capitol attack showed the more serious danger to the country comes from some of his own supporters, not from foreign migrants.
“Rather than the threat being from Mexicans and Central Americans and people that cross the southwest border, we’ve seen evidence that the threat comes from within,” Lapan said. “The only thing he’s done about that threat is encourage it.”
Dawsey reported from Washington. Nick Miroff in Washington contributed to this report.