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'Every Day He Is In Office Is A Danger': Dartmouth Prof. Calls For Trump's Removal From Office

An armed officer in shadow moves across an American flag in the Capitol
Andrew Harnik
Associated Press
An ATF police officer cleans up debris and personal belongings strewn across the floor of the Rotunda in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, pro-Trump extremists swarmed the U.S. Capitol building and forced the evacuation of both the House and the Senate. Congress was forced into recess in the midst of finalizing the results of the 2020 presidential election. Though the House and Senate voted to approve the results early Thursday morning, the events left at least four people dead and more than 50 injured.

Now, hundreds of political scientists — some of them local — have signed an open letter calling for President Trump's removal from office.

VPR's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College who is calling for Pres. Trump's removal from office. They spoke about how history will record what happened in the nation's capitol Wednesday. Their transcript below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Brendan Nyhan: It was a dark day for our democracy. A group of violent extremists, encouraged by the president of the United States, stormed the U.S. Capitol, in an action where the only precedent is the War of 1812 and the sacking of Washington by the British.

It's [in]credibly dangerous, not just that this violence took place, but that it took place specifically to stop the peaceful transfer of power and the acceptance of the election results, certifying Joe Biden as president-elect.

It was an attack on our democracy itself and something that we’ll long remember as the culmination of so many of the dangerous trends that Donald Trump helped to set in motion or accelerate.

Mitch Wertlieb: Prof. Nyhan, you and I have been speaking, really, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016. And then in Sept. of 2020, I remember you saying to me that this was a democratic emergency. This was after Trump said he would refuse to accept the results of an election if he lost. Is this still a democratic emergency, even though Trump's term ends in less than two weeks?

I do think it is still a democratic emergency. And in fact, I helped organize an open letter of political scientists, calling for the immediate impeachment or removal of President Trump or [for] him being removed from office by the process outlined in the 25th Amendment.

I think he's an immediate danger to our democracy. His unwillingness to tell the protesters to stand down in a clear and direct way, even when he was not only asking them to leave, he was praising them – we could see more of this kind of behavior or worse.

The reports from the White House yesterday are incredibly alarming about the behavior of the president. Every day he's in office is a danger and he should be removed from office. This is yet another line that cannot have been crossed, and we must not allow his time in office to continue.

It's beyond politics at this point. It's a threat to the republic.

Remind folks what the 25th Amendment could do. It seems a more direct way at this point than impeachment, which would seem to take a lot longer.

Well, the 25th Amendment outlines a procedure where a majority of the cabinet and the vice president can remove the president from office if he is unable to discharge his duties. It was designed for the purpose of addressing a president who had become incapacitated.

"When people are being told that the election is being stolen, some of them will believe it. And the president has been telling them that, falsely, for weeks now." - Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth political science professor

I think it would be an emergency measure in a case like this, but I think one could argue that the president was unwilling to discharge his duties yesterday. And in fact, reports suggested that it was Vice President Pence who authorized the deployment of, I believe, the D.C. National Guard – which he has no authority to do. The president would be the person who gave that order.

So it may already be the case that the president is unwilling to discharge his duties in the way the office requires.

You know, The New York Times is reporting that it was, in fact, Vice President Pence who called in the National Guard. Prof. Nyhan, there seems to be two distinct reactions to what's happened. It seems either you're shaking your head in shame and disbelief about what happened with that mob attacking the Capitol yesterday, or, as I've heard some pro-Trump backers already saying this morning on NPR, that this was “the inevitable result of what happens when an election is stolen,” even though this one was absolutely not stolen.

If someone comes away from what happened yesterday seeing anything other than a violent, shameful mob attacking the Capitol, what would you want them to know? What would you say to them?

I don't know that I have an answer to that question. That's exactly what happened.

But it does illustrate the danger of the lies and misinformation that people have been fed. When you tell people that the election has been stolen from them and there's a whole apparatus designed to push that message out to people, unfortunately, some people will take that literally.

More from Vermont Edition: Extremists Stormed The U.S. Capitol Wednesday. What's Next?

There were many Republicans who knew these claims were wrong, but nonetheless went along with them in a cynical act of political ambition. And they are now reaping what they sowed. It's tragic. People have been lied to. And we have to worry about the consequences of the kind of misinformation we've seen.

When people are being told that the election is being stolen, some of them will believe it. And the president has been telling them that, falsely, for weeks now – since the November election. And our democracy is at the precipice.

Last night, Congressman Peter Welch, who was at the Capitol when it was attacked, was asked about the 25th Amendment, asked about impeachment, and he said that is unlikely to happen, given the fact that there were just 13 days left in Trump's term.

Assuming we can get these through these last 13 days and nothing as terrible or violent happens as what did yesterday, what steps can Congress and President-elect Biden then do to address this Democratic emergency, once President-elect Biden takes office? Is there anything that he can do in conjunction with Congress to turn this around?

Well, I'm not sure Joe Biden can. I think it's up to the Republicans in Congress. We saw some real courage from people who've been unwilling to speak up against the president. Unfortunately, it took the violent sacking of the Capitol for people to find their spine. But some people in Congress finally drew the line.

The Republican Party must reconstitute itself and draw the line against the kind of behavior that helped bring us to this place.

More from VPR: 'The Doors Were Literally Being Battered Down': Rep. Peter Welch Describes U.S. Capitol Insurrection

Up until yesterday, that seemed like it wouldn't happen. We saw more and more people falling behind Pres. Trump and attacking the results of the election. We even still we saw many Republicans voting against accepting the results last night.

But there may be an opening here for a different kind of Republican Party going forward.

I'm not optimistic, but I think that's the best chance. It's not something that can be dealt with through rules or laws. I mean, of course anyone who broke the law yesterday should be prosecuted. But the deeper, more fundamental problems are the political conditions that brought us to this place.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb

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