US House of Representatives on Wednesday set itself on a course to impeach President Trump for a historic second time, planning an afternoon vote to charge him just one week after he incited a mob of loyalists to storm the Capitol and stop Congress from affirming President-elect Joseph Biden victory in the November election.
Returning to a heavily fortified Capitol, protected by thousands of National Guard, lawmakers began what was expected to be a daylong debate on an article of impeachment that accuses the president of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.
The vote after the debate is expected to pass, with a small but significant number of Republicans joining Democrats to impeach Mr. Trump for the second time, making him the first president to be impeached twice.
“Mr. Speaker, we are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene, and we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the president of the United States,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the Rules Committee chairman, said as he opened the debate.
Mr. McGovern recounted looking in the eyes of some of the Capitol invaders and seeing “evil.” “This was not a protest, this was a well-organized insurrection against our country that was organized by Donald Trump,” he said.
After years of standing monolithically beside Mr. Trump, Republicans were fracturing over the vote. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has embraced the effort as a means to purge Mr. Trump from the party, according to people who have spoken to him, and at least five House Republicans planned to vote to impeach.
The most blistering condemnation came from Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the number three House Republican, who said there had “never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States.” Her announcement is likely to give cover to two dozen or so other House Republicans looking to break ranks and join the effort to remove Mr. Trump from office.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top Republican in the House, has said he is personally opposed to impeachment but was not formally lobbying members of the party against the effort, making an implicit break with Mr. Trump. Not a single House Republican voted in favor of impeachment during the 2019 proceedings.
Few Republicans were willing to defend Mr. Trump’s actions outright. Those who opposed impeachment largely said they were doing so on principle, accusing Democrats of a rushed process that would deny the president his right to defend himself and further inflame the forces of division that erupted last week.
“I can think of no action the House can take that is more likely to further divide the American people,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, who just a week ago was among more than 120 House Republicans who voted to toss out the legitimately decided election results from key swing states Mr. Biden won.
Mr. Trump has shown no trace of contrition, telling reporters on Tuesday that his remarks to supporters had been “totally appropriate,” and that it was the specter of his impeachment that was “causing tremendous anger.”
House leaders were already planning to press their charge to trial in the Senate after Wednesday’s vote, but the timing was uncertain. Because the Senate was not in session, it would take an emergency agreement by the chamber’s top party leaders to return before Jan. 19, a deal that Mr. McConnell has shown no inclination to make. If they did not, a trial would likely start roughly concurrent with Mr. Biden’s inauguration next week.