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Local professors grapple with Trump impeachment, divided country
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Larry Stratton

Waynesburg University professor Larry Stratton expected to have a busy morning when he welcome students back for their first day in his American government and politics class Thursday.

As the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump for the second time in 13 months, Stratton was still trying to figure out how to encapsulate the dire situation the country faces politically and socially.

“I’m at a loss,” Stratton said while watching the debate Wednesday before the impeachment vote later in the day.

So, too, it seems is the rest of the country as the impeachment of Trump came exactly a week after the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters attempting to halt President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory. Four people in the mob died in the attack, along with a Capitol police officer.

“I think that people feel that they have to express disgust with what has happened, pointing the finger at Trump, ‘You didn’t stop what was happening. You invited it.’ (Trump) wouldn’t even communicate with (Vice President Mike) Pence while he was in lockdown,” Stratton said of frantic calls from congressional leaders to dispatch the D.C. National Guard that went unanswered.

“The more we know and the more we see, the more grotesque it becomes,” Stratton added.

Trump is the first president in United States history to be impeached twice, and now owns half of the total number of presidential impeachments, with Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 as the only other two.

“In terms of a broader historical contrast, it is unprecedented,” Stratton said.

Congress voted 232-197, with all Democrats and 10 Republicans voting in favor of impeachment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he would not bring senators back to Washington, D.C., early to conduct a trial, so the task would fall to Democrats when they take control of the Senate after Biden is inaugurated.

Joe DiSarro

Joseph DiSarro, a professor who teaches political science at Washington & Jefferson College, was horrified by the events at the Capitol last week and saddened to see the divide in the country.

“What happened in Washington, D.C., I cannot believe. It’s unconscionable,” DiSarro said. “It’s a violation of our basic system of law. I firmly believe there has to be something wrong with (Trump). There is something wrong here.”

He said Trump has created a “constitutional crisis” by allegedly inciting the mob at his rally just before many of them stormed the Capitol, and called for him to resign as the only way to save what’s left of his legacy.

“The president can still save his honor by resigning. He still has a couple of days to save himself. Just stand up and say, ‘I’m going to stand down and hand it over to Vice President Pence.’ That’s it. He should. At some point, someone should step up to the plate and accept responsibility for these heinous acts,” DiSarro said.

“Never did I think this could happen in the United States of America,” he added.

DiSarro thinks it will be up to high-ranking Republican senators to meet directly with Trump to demand he resign. Otherwise, DiSarro is convinced Trump will eventually be convicted by the U.S. Senate, although that apparently wouldn’t happen until after he leaves office at noon Jan. 20.

“It has put the country in disarray,” DiSarro said. “I feel for President-elect Biden. He is going to have a lot of work to do to put this country back together. I never would’ve imagined this.”

Tensions have been rising over the past week as federal investigators have arrested hundreds in the mob and warned that more attacks could happen in the days leading up to the inauguration. National Guard units have been sent to protect the Capitol, including 1,000 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard dispatched by Gov. Tom Wolf to assist with security in the nation’s capital.

Both DiSarro and Stratton are concerned about the safety of the inauguration, and expect Biden will have to spend time focusing on healing the country, in addition to managing the coronavirus pandemic that has battered the economy.

“We’re really in a turbulent sea right now in America,” Stratton said. “There are so many unknown variables. I think it will be incumbent upon the new president – President-elect Biden – to set some new tone to bring Americans together. Could you imagine being his speechwriter right now?”

The unsettling events of the past week will undoubtedly be the centerpiece of Stratton’s curriculum as students at Waynesburg return this week. Stratton, who teaches constitutional law, said he expects both his students and the rest of the public to be engaged in the process, even if the situation would have been unfathomable just last week.

“We’ll be forced to draw the contours of all these issues. Rather than drawing conclusions, I’m trying to figure it out all myself,” Stratton said. “My hope is the students I teach will help teach the world straight. That’s why I do what I do.”

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COVID-19 vaccination registries for essential workers take shape

Allegheny County is planning to open pop-up locations and larger operations to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.

Washington County is launching an online registration project for the vaccines, which have been slow in arriving to the state.

The Washington County registry can also be used for essential workers in Greene and Fayette counties and will expand after more groups become eligible for the vaccines, said Jeff Yates, Washington County’s public safety director.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the county has been fielding many calls from residents who want the vaccine.

They want to know “when it will be their turn,” Fitzgerald said. “I wish we could answer that.”

The amount of doses coming into Allegheny fluctuates and so far has been limited to health-care and other front-line workers and residents of long-term care facilities, Fitzgerald said.

Forty-four other providers have been approved in Allegheny to administer doses once they are available, he said.

The virus has killed 18,429 Pennsylvanians since March after 349 new deaths were announced Wednesday, including six in Fayette County and one in Washington County.

Washington County added 183 new cases, taking its cumulative total to 10,831. Fayette County’s case count grew by 114 to 8,704. Greene County saw 31 new cases, bringing its total to 2,081, and no new deaths from the disease.

Allegheny County reported 670 new cases with a total that climbed to 62,439. There were 74 new deaths announced in that county.

The Washington County registry can be found at www.co.washington.pa.us/.

AP featured
Trump impeached after Capitol riot in historic second charge

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time Wednesday, charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the deadly mob siege of the Capitol in a swift and stunning collapse of his final days in office.

With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol, egged on by the president’s calls for them to “fight like hell” against the election results.

Ten Republicans fled Trump, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable and warned ominously of a “clear and present danger” if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.

Trump is the only U.S. president to be twice impeached. It was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in modern times, more so than against Bill Clinton in 1998.

The Capitol insurrection stunned and angered lawmakers, who were sent scrambling for safety as the mob descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power. The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign “and domestic.”

She said of Trump: “He must go, he is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Holed up at the White House, watching the proceedings on TV, Trump later released a video statement in which he made no mention at all of the impeachment but appealed to his supporters to refrain from any further violence or disruption of Biden’s inauguration.

“Like all of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the calamity at the Capitol last week,” he said, his first condemnation of the attack. He appealed for unity “to move forward” and said, “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. ... No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement.”

Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 acquit. He is the first president to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as officeholders, donors, big business and others peel away from the defeated president.

Biden said in a statement after the vote that it was his hope 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.”

The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell’s office said. The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.

McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats’ impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the divisive, chaotic president’s hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist, who demanded anonymity to describe McConnell’s conversations.

In a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote.”

Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.

Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol.

In making a case for the “high crimes and misdemeanors” demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot and killed a woman during the siege. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies. The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory.

Ten Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, voted to impeach Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.

Cheney, whose father is the former Republican vice president, said of Trump’s actions summoning the mob that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President” of his office.

Trump was said to be livid with perceived disloyalty from McConnell and Cheney.

With the team around Trump hollowed out and his Twitter account silenced by the social media company, the president was deeply frustrated that he could not hit back, according to White House officials and Republicans close to the West Wing who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

From the White House, Trump leaned on Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to push Republican senators to resist, while chief of staff Mark Meadows called some of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The president’s sturdy popularity with the GOP lawmakers’ constituents still had some sway, and most House Republicans voted not to impeach.

Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricaded the door from rioters.

“We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.

Other Republicans argued the impeachment was a rushed sham and complained about a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.

Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, “Every movement has a lunatic fringe.”

Yet Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. and others recounted the harrowing day as rioters pounded on the chamber door trying to break in. Some called it a “coup” attempt.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., contended that Trump was “capable of starting a civil war.”

Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down his first days in office, Biden is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID-19 relief while also conducting the trial.

The impeachment bill draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden. Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

The House had first tried to persuade Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke their authority under the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence declined to do so, but the House passed the resolution anyway.

The impeachment bill also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.