BOSTON (SHNS) – Calls to remove President Donald Trump from office after he incited a violent riot in the U.S. Capitol swept across Massachusetts on Thursday, coming from the state’s Republican governor and every member of the all-Democrat congressional delegation.
Gov. Charlie Baker opened a press conference on Thursday by calling the upheaval in Washington D.C. encouraged by the president “a dark moment for our country,” and he explicitly linked the chaos to Trump’s repeated lies that re-election was stolen from him.
“Yesterday’s events were appalling, disgraceful and depressing, but it’s important to remember that they were the culmination of months of President Trump repeating over and over again that the American electoral system is a fraud,” Baker said. “After he stoked the flames of outrage for weeks leading up to the events of yesterday, he refused to adequately prepare the U.S. Capitol for the possibility of violence and left it nearly defenseless.”
Baker, who has faced criticism from state Democrats since Wednesday for not calling for Trump’s removal from office, did not initially mention the 25th Amendment that Trump’s Cabinet can trigger or impeachment in his prepared remarks. However, when asked if Trump should remain in office, Baker said Vice President Mike Pence should be given the authority to lead the country through a peaceful transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
“I think it’s important at this point that there be an orderly transition, and it should be led by the vice president,” Baker said.
Baker said it should be left “up to the people in Washington” whether that means invoking the 25th Amendment, or using another mechanism. “I think people should pursue whatever they believe will make it possible in the most expeditious way possible for the president to step down and the vice president to assume the powers of the office for the next 14 days so that an orderly transition can take place,” Baker said.
The development is a significant step for Baker, who has frequently criticized Trump during his presidency but never endorsed either of Trump’s Democratic opponents or vocally supported the 2019 impeachment proceedings.
Under the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet can declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” A president can challenge that ruling, but if two-thirds of Congress agrees the chief executive is unfit, the vice president can take over as acting president.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Masachusetts Andrew Lelling, a Trump appointee, announced Thursday that his office would prosecute anyone who traveled from the Bay State to the nation’s capital “with the intent to commit” criminal violent protest.
“Yesterday’s events in Washington were shocking and, once peaceful demonstrations turned violent, they became criminal,” Lelling said in a statement. “The Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech and assembly. What is does not protect is a violent assault on government institutions. Americans on the right and left must re-learn the difference.”
All nine House members plus U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey announced late Wednesday night or Thursday morning they support Trump’s forceful removal.
There are only 13 days remaining until Biden takes office, but the unprecedented insurrection attempt in Washington while Congress was certifying the election results Wednesday — visibly fueled by Trump’s repeated false accusations — prompted demands for action.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Cabinet should stop hiding behind anonymous leaks to reporters and do what the Constitution demands they do: invoke the 25th Amendment and remove this President from office,” Warren Tweeted Wednesday night after some reports that members of Trump’s Cabinet had begun initial conversations about trying to remove the president.
“This horrifying effort to subvert democracy isn’t just one last Trump tantrum — itâ€™s an effort to knock out the basic pillar on which democracy is founded,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley described the violent protests, which were linked to four deaths, as “acts of domestic terrorism.” So, too, did U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, who branded it “an assault on our very Democracy.”
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, who on Thursday morning became the final member from the delegation to call for Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment or prepare articles of impeachment, said he was “stunned by the behavior of the President” that provoked the rioting at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Lynch said taking the dramatic steps — which could be difficult in such a short timeframe and might need a two-thirds vote in both branches — would be worth it even if they do not result in Trump’s eviction from power.
“While it is extremely unlikely that this process could succeed within 13 days, it would still send a clear message to other government agencies to resist any questionable or momentous instructions President Trump may give that would put the lives of Americans in peril or threaten our National Security,” Lynch said.
The violent riot targeted the Capitol on the day that Congress worked to certify Biden’s electoral victory, a procedural process that many Republican lawmakers planned to challenge on baseless and unsupported accusations of election fraud — 147 of whom still did, albeit unsuccessfully, hours after the chaos.
Trump and other speakers addressed large crowds who gathered earlier Wednesday in support of overturning the presidential election, where he repeated lies that he had won the race, stressed that “we will never give up” the challenge, and encouraged attendees to walk over to the Capitol, where Congress was certifying the results.
“We’re going to try and give — the Democrats are hopeless,” Trump said. “They’re never voting for anything. Not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans — the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.”
Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama started off the rally by urging attendees to “stop by the Capitol” and said Republican U.S. senators who did not join the unsuccessful effort to contest the election results were voting to “turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed and socialist nation on the decline.”
Brooks later told the ralliers, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” He then shouted, “Now, our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat and their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives, to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you. Are you willing to do the same? My answer is yes.”
Trump did not explicitly condemn the protests as they turned into riots, and has come under fire for not protecting the Capitol. He urged participants to “remain peaceful” in a tweet around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order â€“ respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!,” he tweeted.
In a video later in the afternoon that wound up removed by Twitter, he urged them to “go home” while stressing that “we love you” and reiterating the conspiracy theory that the election was “stolen.”
Eventually, during the overnight hours, Trump released a statement acknowledging that Biden will become the next president following an “orderly transition.”
“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” he said.
While the scores of Trump supporters were storming through the Capitol and reportedly engaged in armed standoffs with police, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey called the violence “an attempted coup.”
In a Thursday morning joint statement, Healey and fellow Democratic Attorneys General Association Co-chair Aaron Ford of Nevada called it an “active assault on our democracy.”
“Every member of Congress and every leader who believes in the rule of law should condemn the violence and publicly reject the President’s lies about the election that fueled today’s events,” they said. “Today is evidence of the danger that comes with promoting conspiracy theories and misinformation for political gain as we have seen far too many Republicans do this election cycle.”
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons, whose vocal support of Trump has contrasted with Baker’s approach, condemned the violence in Washington without making any reference to Trump.
“All Americans must stand together for our Constitution, for our representative form of government, and for our laws and law enforcement officers,” Lyons said in a statement Wednesday evening. “As chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, I unequivocally condemn any attempt to disrupt our precious and irreplaceable Constitutional order. Sadly, we are witnessing a breach of lawful order on Capitol Hill that is completely indefensible under any circumstances.”
Another call for Trump’s removal came from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat who is reportedly poised to join the next cabinet as Biden’s labor secretary. Like Baker did, Walsh opened a COVID-19 press conference Thursday with a long message condemning the violence.
“We watched in horror as mobs stormed the United States Capitol, leaving a trail of chaos and destruction,” Walsh said. “That was not a protest, it was an insurrection.”
He stressed several times that Americans need to come together and “choose unity over division,” particularly amid a raging public health crisis. Although smaller-scale protests erupted in some state capitals across the country, Walsh said he does not anticipate “any threats” in Boston.
Trump should “absolutely” be removed from office, Walsh said.
(Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.)