WILMINGTON, Del. — U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff to discuss Congress’ response to the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the remaining days of President Trump’s presidency.

On removing President Trump: “[T]here has to be accountability for this unprecedented act by a sitting U.S. President … I think what President Trump should do is resign … Failing that, Vice President Mike Pence and the majority of the Cabinet should do what only they can do, which is to exercise the 25th Amendment to remove the president. Absent that, if they won't take responsibility in those ways, then Congress has to do what it can.”

On the possibility of impeachment proceedings through the beginning of the Biden administration: “[I]n this moment when the pandemic is raging out of control, we need the sort of leadership that Joe Biden can provide to our country. We have two pandemics: one, this COVID-19 public health crisis but also a pandemic of division and distrust. The Constitution doesn't provide exactly how we will carry out a trial. We could separate our days and begin in the morning doing the work of confirming some of the very capable and seasoned leaders that Joe Biden has nominated to form his Cabinet, and the afternoon conducting an impeachment trial.”

On the safety of Inauguration Day: “I hope and pray that it will be. I have confidence that with a unified command, with the National Guard deployed in significant numbers, and with a perimeter pushed out further than it was last Wednesday, that it is possible we will have a safe and secure inauguration. But I think there is important work to be done: tamping down some of this division, tamping down some of the fires that have been lit by President Trump. It is important that Republicans who have long supported him take action this week to ensure that the American people recognize the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election as the next President of the United States.”

Full audio and video available here. A transcript is provided below. 

Q: Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is one of President-elect Joe Biden's closest allies on the Hill, and he joins us now. Senator Coons, thank you so much for being with us again. At this point, what do you think the chances are President Trump could be removed from office before January 20th? 

Sen. Coons: Well, Judy, there has to be accountability for this unprecedented act by a sitting U.S. President – to spin up a crowd, to incite them to riot and then send them off to the Capitol where they stormed the Capitol, where they were chanting things like "Hang Mike Pence" in the hallways, where they did a lot of physical damage, and globally on the world stage, an enormous amount of damage to our reputation. Obviously as you were just saying in the last segment, there has been a tragic loss of life, two Capitol police officers have suffered line of duty deaths. I think all of us as a nation need to stop and reflect on this. I think what President Trump should do is resign. That will remove him as quickly as is possible. Failing that, Vice President Mike Pence and the majority of the Cabinet should do what only they can do which is to exercise the 25th Amendment to remove the president. Absent that, if they won't take responsibility in those ways, then Congress has to do what it can. And as you mentioned earlier, I understand Minority Leader Schumer is exploring whether there is a pathway for us to reconvene promptly after the House passes an article of impeachment. 

Q: But you are very familiar with your Republican colleagues. Do you think there is any chance that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would agree to that sort of special circumstances, to speed up a trial in the Senate in just the next few days? 

Sen. Coons: You know Judy, it seems unlikely. But one of the things that was most striking to me Wednesday night was after law enforcement regained control of the Capitol – and we all have to be grateful for the men and women of law enforcement, the special officers and agents who regained control of the Capitol under very tough circumstances. When we went back into the chamber, some of the strongest language about the importance of certifying this election came from Vice President Pence, Majority Leader McConnell, other senators I rarely agree with. Folks like Senators Cotton and Lee, Toomey and others spoke very forcefully. They recognize how important it is for there to be truth telling to the American people – how important it is for President Trump's misled and misguided base to hear from Republican leaders that Joe Biden is the duly elected next President of the United States. 

Q: But at this point it appears it's more likely once the House impeaches, which it appears it will do, a trial would take place in the Senate after President Trump leaves office. It would be when Joe Biden would then be the president. How do you see that complicating then-President Biden's agenda? We just heard the reporting from Yamiche on splitting the time every day. But is that the way Joe Biden wants to begin his administration?

Sen. Coons: Well, you know, President-elect Biden was in no small part elected because he ran on bringing our country together, on moving us forward past the divisive presidency of Donald Trump. And in this moment when the pandemic is raging out of control, we need the sort of leadership that Joe Biden can provide to our country. We have two pandemics: one, this COVID-19 public health crisis but also a pandemic of division and distrust. The Senate gets to set the rules that it will follow for impeachment, the Constitution doesn't provide exactly how we will carry out a trial. We could separate our days and begin in the morning doing the work of confirming some of the very capable and seasoned leaders that Joe Biden has nominated to form his Cabinet, and the afternoons conducting an impeachment trial. A number of my Republican colleagues have reached out to me saying that impeachment is the wrong path, that it won't bring reconciliation. And as I have said in other contexts, repentance is required before reconciliation. We need to hear and see some actions by President Trump or those folks in the other party who have long encouraged and supported him despite his unconventional and destructive behavior. We need to see them do an about face and recognize the harm that was done on Wednesday, and the actions that need to be taken to bring our country back together.

Q: Well, do you see any indication that is going to happen? You had eight members of the Senate who objected to Joe Biden's electoral vote win, 138 members, Republicans in the House – a number, I believe that's correct. Do you expect any of them to express regret, to apologize, to try to change direction on where they stand right now?

Sen. Coons: Judy, there were 13 senators originally prepared to challenge the certification. Roughly half of them changed their mind and changed their vote after they saw the tragedy of the storming of the Capitol. What I struggle with most is folks like leaders in the House, McCarthy and Scalise – folks in the Senate, Senators Hawley and Cruz who are seasoned lawyers, who both clerked for the Supreme Court – folks who I believe know better than to do this kind of thing. And I think all of them should be publicly speaking about how they have repented of this action and they regret and want to move past the violence and divisiveness that resulted. At the end of the day, most importantly, President Trump is responsible for this incident. He's the one more than anyone else who inspired this mob to come to the Capitol, who urged them to go to the Capitol and to be rough, to be forceful, to be wild. And it has not calmed down. There are folks all over social media who are right now planning for future violent events. That is why President Trump was kicked off of Twitter and Facebook. 

Q: And that's what I want to ask you about right now. The way things stand right now, do you believe that it's assured that the situation, circumstances will be safe on the day your friend Joe Biden is inaugurated president? 

Sen. Coons: Judy, I hope and pray that it will be. I have confidence that with a unified command, with the National Guard deployed in significant numbers, with a perimeter pushed out further than it was last Wednesday, that it is possible we will have a safe and secure inauguration. But I think there is important work to be done: tamping down some of this division, tamping down some of the fires that have been lit by President Trump. It's important that Republicans who have long supported him take action this week to ensure that the American people recognize the legitimacy of Joe Biden's election as the next President of the United States

Q: I hear you're calling on them to do that. Let's see what happens. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you very much.

Sen. Coons: Thank you, Judy. 

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