The House could vote to impeach US President Donald Trump as soon as Tuesday, but hold off for months on sending the process to the Senate to avoid starting an immediate trial, a senior Democrat said.
House majority whip James Clyburn said the Democratic leadership was “working hard” on an article of impeachment showing that Mr Trump is “unqualified to be president".
"I think that will come probably Tuesday and maybe Wednesday," Mr Clyburn said on Fox News Sunday when asked whether House Democrats would vote on impeachment this week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on Mr Trump to resign over Wednesday’s violent storming of the Capitol, and she raised the prospect of impeachment unless he left office immediately.
Five people died in the attack, including a police officer, after Mr Trump's supporters broke through security barriers and rampaged through the building, forcing politicians to flee while they were counting electoral college votes.
But Ms Pelosi is moving cautiously, despite pressure from her caucus to hold Mr Trump accountable by impeaching him for a second time.
President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear he wants the party to focus on his agenda and fighting the coronavirus, rather than pursuing another impeachment.
Mr Clyburn suggested that any successful impeachment, which is similar to an indictment, could be delayed by the House for 100 days or more to avoid derailing the start of the Biden administration.
It is ultimately a decision for Ms Pelosi, the South Carolina Democrat said told CNN.
“Let’s give president-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running, and maybe we’ll send the articles some time after that,” Mr Clyburn said.
Ms Pelosi has told legislators to be “prepared to return to Washington” this week.
That suggests she is considering impeachment or another formal response to Mr Trump’s role in encouraging supporters who attacked the Capitol.
At least 195 House Democrats have signed on to one of the impeachment articles, and some Republicans have said they believe Mr Trump's conduct is impeachable.
But they question how the process would play out with less than two weeks left in his term.
In a letter to fellow Democrats on Saturday, Ms Pelosi stopped short of saying she intended to advance impeachment or another process aimed at removing Mr Trump from office before his term expires on January 20.
But she insisted that he be held responsible in some fashion.
“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” she said in the letter.
“There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the president.”
A small group of House Republicans who opposed the party's objections to Mr Biden’s electoral college victory asked the president-elect to persuade Ms Pelosi to back off from impeaching Mr Trump.
Led by Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, they warned in a letter to Mr Biden on Saturday that impeachment would inflame Mr Trump’s supporters and damage the incoming president’s efforts to unify the country.
Ms Pelosi said she would continue to meet legislators and Constitutional experts.
On Friday, she said she told the rules committee to be ready to move forward with an impeachment case, but stopped short of saying it would be brought for a vote.
For Democratic leaders, there is little risk in pressuring Mr Trump’s Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare the president incapable of governing.
But impeachment would put the spotlight on Mr Trump instead of on preparing for Mr Biden’s coming administration.
It could also mean a Senate impeachment trial during the first days of Mr Biden’s presidency, forcing the chamber to set aside other business, including confirmation of a new Cabinet.
Mr Biden, when asked on Friday about impeaching Mr Trump, said that was a judgment for Congress to make.
But he also appeared to suggest caution on such a politically fraught move when there is only a dozen days until his inauguration.
“It’s important we get on with the business getting him out of office," Mr Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
"The quickest way that that will happen is us being sworn in on the 20th.
“I am focused now on us taking control as president and vice president on the 20th, and to get our agenda moving as quickly as we can.”
A group of House Democrats on Monday plans to unveil an Article of Impeachment, tweeted Ted Lieu of California.
The text of the proposed resolution includes an article accusing Mr Trump of “incitement of insurrection”.
It says he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanours by “wilfully inciting violence against the government of the United States” in connection with the storming of the Capitol.
Any attempt to impeach Mr Trump would run against time and divisions among Republicans over how to contain the president his final days in office.
The House would have days to act before Mr Biden’s inauguration and it is not clear that the Senate could move ahead with a trial within a week.
Convicting Mr Trump would require support from a significant number of Republican senators.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has stayed silent on any steps regarding Mr Trump, sent a memo to Republican senators late on Friday outlining the timetable for any impeachment trial.
It said the Senate was in recess and it would require unanimous consent in the chamber to act on any impeachment trial before January 19.
A trial would not begin until Mr Trump’s term expired and then would require the Senate to remain in session each day until a verdict was given.