Last week’s maximum-security inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris rendered all the more surreal the chaos that unfolded on the Hill just weeks before. The assault on the Capitol was an attack on the country, on democracy, on free and fair elections, and on the rule of law. But at the most basic level, it was an attack on what Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the engineer and urban designer who created the initial blueprint of Washington, D.C., designated the “Congress House.”
That description lays bare the unusual interbranch stakes of the coming second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Set aside for a moment whether a Senate supermajority could be moved to vote to convict an ex-president—and possible future presidential candidate—in order to protect the country. Following his incitement of an armed siege on Congress’s own house, can the Senate be persuaded to vote to protect itself? What looks like a vote on the president’s political fate is more fundamentally a vote on Congress’s security—and on the viability of major principles of constitutional power.
The details of Trump’s participation in the events bear repeating. On January 6, the then-president of the United States stood on a stage in front of the White House before thousands of supporters brought to the nation’s capital by his false claims of election fraud. He urged his supporters to “fight much harder” against “bad people” and to “stop the steal” taking place at the Capitol, where a joint session was under way to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The throngs immediately complied, scaling the walls and forcing their way through the windows of the nation’s seat of government, ransacking the offices of elected officials, and attacking police officers with lead pipes. Senators, representatives, and their staffers barely made it into lockdown, where they waited for hours in fear of mass execution, many in crowded quarters with colleagues who refused to don surgical masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Bombs were found nearby, close to the Republican and Democratic National Committees’ headquarters. Six people died as a result, including one police officer who was beaten with a fire extinguisher, and another who later died by suicide.