As His Predecessor Is Impeached, Biden Tries to Stay Above the Fray

WASHINGTON — His fellow Democrats are red hot with rage after the assault on the Capitol, but President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has maintained a studied cool, staying largely removed from the searing debate that culminated on Wednesday with President Trump’s impeachment and keeping his focus on battling a deadly pandemic, reviving a faltering economy and lowering the political temperature.

Hours after the vote in the House to impeach Mr. Trump for a second time, Mr. Biden denounced what he called a violent attack on the Capitol and the “public servants in that citadel of liberty.” He said a bipartisan group of lawmakers had condemned the violence by following “the Constitution and their conscience.”

But he also pledged to ensure that Americans “stand together as a nation” when he becomes president next week, exhibiting the deliberate approach to politics that became the trademark of his march to the White House.

“This nation also remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a reeling economy,” he said in a statement. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.”

Rather than step up to lead his party’s effort to hold Mr. Trump accountable, Mr. Biden has deferred to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in the House and Senate. He has spent the past week honing policy proposals and introducing new appointees while delivering a carefully calibrated, above-the-fray message. “What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” he said about impeachment two days after the attacks.

Mr. Biden’s emphasis on the governing challenge ahead is based on a belief that the nation is in a devastating crisis and that requires him to prioritize keeping Americans healthy in the middle of an increasingly devastating pandemic and restoring the prosperity that has evaporated in its wake. But it also underscores the contrast between his cautious, centrist approach to politics and the seething anger of many elected Democratic officials and voters over Mr. Trump’s assaults on democratic norms and their desire to punish him for it.

The president-elect has made it clear that he intends to work toward repairing the breach in America’s political culture after Mr. Trump’s four tumultuous years in office.

“Too many of our fellow Americans have suffered for too long over the past year to delay this urgent work,” he said in the statement. “I have often said that there is nothing we can’t do, if we do it together. And it has never been more critical for us to stand together as a nation than right now.”

But he will be pursuing a Democratic agenda in a sharply divided Congress at the same time, forcing him into a balancing act that is sure to be especially precarious in his administration’s opening weeks as the Senate again litigates Mr. Trump’s behavior and weighs convicting him.

“I think he looks calm,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who helped run Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and has become an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Part of this whole moment is a return to normalcy. Having a level-headed president who isn’t rage tweeting and trying to win every news cycle — it’s a hallmark of the Biden people. They’ve been very patient.”

As a candidate, Mr. Biden embraced a strategy that purposely kept him above the fray, refusing to be dragged into the chaotic maelstrom of Mr. Trump’s presidency at every turn.

But what worked to win him the Democratic nomination and the White House may wear thin when he is sworn in next Wednesday at the Capitol amid extraordinary security, the potential for further political unrest and pent-up demand from his own party for legislative victories.

Once in office, Mr. Biden is likely to find it all but impossible to keep issues like impeachment at arm’s length, especially with the spectacle of a Senate trial dominating news coverage and slowing his push to win confirmation for his nominees. Robert Gibbs, who served as President Barack Obama’s first press secretary, recalled how the White House struggled to maintain their campaign’s messaging discipline in the first days of the administration in 2009.

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“One minute you can decide what you want to comment on,” Mr. Gibbs said. “The next minute, you not only don't get to decide, but you’re responsible for it all.”

The risk for Mr. Biden is that a determined effort to keep his focus on a return to normalcy comes to be seen as detached from a moment that does not feel at all normal.

On the House floor on Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi called Mr. Trump “a clear and present danger to the country” and a handful of Republicans warned of “a grave danger” from the sitting president and insisted “we cannot wait a moment longer” to remove him from office.

By contrast, in the week since Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr. Biden has introduced members of his cabinet, urged an increase in the minimum wage, pledged to support small businesses and vowed action on the pandemic. Yet while he made clear his disdain and repeated his belief that the current president is not fit to hold office — and ripped Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas for their roles in promoting baseless claims of widespread election fraud — Mr. Biden sidestepped questions about whether Mr. Trump should be impeached and convicted.

On Wednesday, even as lawmakers weighed whether to make Mr. Trump the first president to be impeached twice, Mr. Biden’s transition team sent out summaries of meetings involving some of his cabinet nominees, including a “listening session” about environmental justice issues and a “virtual round-table discussion” about education for those with disabilities.


Trump Impeached Again, With Some G.O.P. Support

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives impeached President Trump for inciting a violent insurrection against the United States government, following the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol. Ten Republican members voted with Democrats.

“Give me a break. The president of the United States instigated an attempted coup in this country, people died. Everybody should be outraged, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. If this is not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what the hell is.” “President Trump is committed to a peaceful and uninterrupted transfer of power, but that’s not good enough for my colleagues across the aisle. With just seven days left in President Trump’s term, they are fast-tracking impeachment proceedings, a move, which will no doubt further divide an already fractured nation. Even House Democrats’ last impeachment effort —” “I hid in an office for hours, terrified to open the door because I did not know if a rioter was on the other side, ready to attack, kidnap or murder me.” “You cannot, consistent with the rule of law, punish that which the Constitution’s First Amendment declares protected. If you do it, the violators of duty to this Constitution.” “Those insurrectionists were not patriots. They were not part of a political base to be catered to and managed, they were domestic terrorists, and justice must prevail. But they did not appear out of a vacuum. They were sent here, sent here by the president, with words such as a cry to ‘fight like hell.’ Words matter. Truth matters, accountability matters.” “If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted. That’s what the president did. That is all he did.” “Let me ask you a question: What do you think they would have done if they had gotten in? What do you think they would have done to you? And who do you think sent them here — the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office.” “And you want to just go after a president, just go straight to the floor — no investigation, no judiciary committee, go straight to the floor, use it as a political weapon, as you wish. This is so dangerous what you’re doing.” “If we fail to remove a white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist insurrection, it’s communities like Missouri’s First District that suffer the most. The 117th Congress must understand that we have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives.” “The president took an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Last week, there was a domestic threat at the door of the Capitol, and he did nothing to stop it. That is why with a heavy heart and clear resolve, I will vote ‘yes’ on these articles of impeachment.” [applause] “On this vote, the ‘ayes’ are 232. The ‘nays’ are 197. The resolution is adopted without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.”

People close to the president-elect say Mr. Biden was horrified by the scene at the Capitol. But he is trapped between competing priorities: holding Mr. Trump accountable for inciting violence against the occupants of a building in which he worked for decades, and quickly moving his agenda through a Congress that is already deeply divided.

Mr. Biden’s candidacy was at the heart of the actions that led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. Mr. Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to help undercut Mr. Biden via a convoluted series of events related to work done in that country by Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter.

The Trump Impeachment ›

From Riot to Impeachment

The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and at the ongoing fallout:

    • As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
    • A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
    • Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
    • Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
    • The House has begun proceedings on an article of impeachment. It accuses the president of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.

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