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Sheltering in a Capitol office, a California lawmaker's frantic text got impeachment ball rolling

Jennifer Haberkorn and Sarah D. Wire, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — Still taking refuge in a Capitol Hill office after violent Trump supporters besieged the House and Senate floors, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., fired off a text message to every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee “should start drafting articles of impeachment now, regardless of what leadership says,” he wrote in the message, sent at 3:09 p.m. Eastern time. “We have seen the consequences of being weak against Trump and not holding him accountable these last couple months. If we don’t do anything besides send strongly worded press releases, then we are complicit in battering lady justice and our Constitution.”

His colleagues were scattered and panicked, most having fled just moments before angry extremists breached the doors of the U.S. Capitol and began ransacking the place.

But for those who were now safe enough to answer Lieu’s missive, the response was unanimous: Impeach.

The text message was the start of a blazingly fast impeachment of President Donald Trump, set to culminate Wednesday with a vote that will make him the first U.S. president impeached two times.

Lieu didn’t need to worry about leadership opposing his effort. They never did, he said in an interview. “I was just super pissed off.”


Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters the day after the attack that “my phone is exploding with ‘impeach, impeach, impeach.’ The president must be held accountable.”

Unlike the first impeachment, there was no talk about how centrist Democrats in conservative districts might vote. There was speed and clarity.

“As much as our focus at the time was to get back to the Capitol, we also recognized we had just been attacked and this wasn’t just an attack on our country. This was an attack incited by the leader of our country,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. “The consensus was, we had just been attacked, we can’t let him continue to inspire attacks like this.”

Lieu, one of several Californians who played a key role in the impeachment, was holed up in the office of Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., as the mob descended. The two began drafting the article immediately. They were joined by staff on the Judiciary Committee as well as Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional law expert.


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