WASHINGTON, United States – “This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
President Donald Trump stressed this in a jarring shift of tone a day after a grievance-fueled outdoor rally in which he encouraged thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol.
“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high, but now tempers must be cooled and calm restored,” said Trump, standing before a lectern with the presidential seal.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power,” he said.
“Serving as your president has been the honor of my lifetime,” Trump said, without explicitly conceding and insisting he was “fighting to defend American democracy.”
Trump's turnaround came as aides including one Cabinet member resigned and the two top Democrats in Congress urged his immediate removal, fearing the damage he can still inflict in his less than two weeks left in the world's most powerful job.
On Thursday, shortly after Congress certified the election victory of Joe Biden as the next US president, Trump promised a smooth transition and acknowledged his presidency was ending as calls grew for his removal from office for encouraging the mob attack on the US Capitol.
An unusually tame Trump, in a video he released on Twitter after a temporary suspension, condemned rioters who rampaged in his name through a congressional session that certified Biden's victory, although he did not go so far as to congratulate or even say the name of his successor.
Meanwhile, a US Capitol Police officer has died of injuries sustained during clashes with a mob of Trump's supporters who overran a session of Congress, police said late Thursday.
It was the first law enforcement death stemming from the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday which saw flag-waving crowds overwhelm police and break into the legislature.
Four protesters died, including a woman who was shot by police.
Three other deaths were reported on the Capitol grounds, but the circumstances remained unclear.
Officer Brian Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was “responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
“He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries” on Thursday night, it said.
Darkest days in US history
Biden, who won seven million votes more than Trump in the November 3 election as well as a decisive edge in the vital state-by-state Electoral College, declined to address demands for Trump's removal but accused him of an “all-out assault on the institutions of our democracy.”
“Yesterday, in my view, was one of the darkest days in the history of our nation,” Biden said at an event to introduce his nominee for attorney general, respected judge Merrick Garland, who if confirmed, will quickly need to decide whether to prosecute Trump.
“They weren't protesters,” Biden said.
“They were a riotous mob, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists.”
“I wish we could say we couldn't see it coming but that isn't true,” Biden said.
“We could see it coming.”
“The past four years, we've had a president who's made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done,” he said.
Calls to remove Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which allows a majority of the Cabinet to remove a president deemed unable to discharge his duties.
They threatened otherwise to impeach Trump for an unprecedented second time in hopes that the Senate, where Democrats are projected to have won control after runoff elections Tuesday in Georgia, will now oust him.
“This is an emergency of the highest magnitude,” Pelosi said, describing Trump as a “very dangerous person.”
“By inciting sedition, as he did yesterday, he must be removed from office,” she said.
“While it's only 13 days left, any day can be a horror show for America.
Few Republicans came forward to back such remedies although Representative Adam Kinzinger, a frequent Trump critic within his party, said it was time to ''end this nightmare'' and also called for invoking the 25th Amendment, which has been used previously when presidents undergo a surgical procedure.
“The president is unfit,” Kinzinger said.
“And the president is unwell.” Invoking the amendment would make Pence the acting president for the remaining two weeks the administration has in office.
Speaking to CNN, retired Marine Corps general John Kelly, who served as Trump's chief of staff for 18 months, said the Cabinet should consider the 25th Amendment but believed the president had been chastened.
“He can give all the orders he wants but no one is going to break the law,” Kelly said.
Pence, loyally by Trump's side until the final days, rejected Trump's vocal pressure to somehow intervene in Tuesday's session, which has taken place every four years for more than two centuries without drama.