WASHINGTON (AP) – With 13 days left in his term, United States (US)President Donald Trump finally bent to reality on Thursday amid growing talk of trying to force him out early, acknowledging he’ll peacefully leave after Congress affirmed his defeat.
Trump led off a video from the White House by condemning the violence carried out in his name a day earlier at the Capitol. Then, for the first time on camera, he admitted his presidency would soon end – though he declined to mention President-elect Joe Biden by name or explicitly state he had lost.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20,” Trump said in the video. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
The address, which appeared designed to stave off talk of a forced early eviction, came at the end of a day when the cornered president stayed out of sight in the White House.
Silenced on some of his favourite Internet lines of communication, he watched the resignations of several top aides, including two Cabinet secretaries.
And as officials sifted through the aftermath of the pro-Trump mob’s siege of the US Capitol, there was growing discussion of impeaching him a second time or invoking the 25th Amendment to oust him from the Oval Office.
The invasion of the Capitol building, a powerful symbol of the nation’s democracy, rattled Republicans and Democrats alike. They struggled with how best to contain the impulses of a president deemed too dangerous to control his own social media accounts but who remains commander in chief of the world’s greatest military.
“I’m not worried about the next election, I’m worried about getting through the next 14 days,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s staunchest allies. He condemned the president’s role in Wednesday’s riots and said, “If something else happens, all options would be on the table”.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that “the president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America”. She called him “a very dangerous person who should not continue in office. This is urgent, an emergency of the highest magnitude”.
Neither option to remove Trump seemed likely, with little time left in his term to draft the Cabinet members needed to invoke the amendment or to organise the hearings and trial mandated for an impeachment. But the fact that the dramatic options were even the subject of discussion in Washington’s corridors of power served as a warning to Trump.
Fears of what a desperate president could do in his final days spread in the nation’s capital and beyond, including speculation Trump could incite more violence, make rash appointments, issue ill-conceived pardons – including for himself and his family – or even trigger a destabilising international incident.
The president’s video on Thursday – which was released upon his return to Twitter after his account was restored – was a complete reversal from the one he put out just 24 hours earlier in which he said to the violent mob: “We love you. You’re very special.” His refusal to condemn the violence sparked a firestorm of criticism and, in the new video, he at last denounced the demonstrators’ “lawlessness and mayhem”.