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2 cabinet members abandon Trump ship

Betsy DeVos
US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submit her resegnation on January 7, 2021 becoming the second member of President Donald Trump's cabinet to resign over the storming of the Capitol by his supporters. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm

WASHINGTON, Jan 8, 2021 (AFP) – Two members of Donald Trump’s cabinet resigned Thursday with days left in the administration in protest over the storming of the Capitol by a mob of the president’s supporters.

The education secretary and transportation secretary — the only two women in Trump’s inner cabinet — both said they could no longer remain in office after the violent rampage on a ceremonial session of Congress that certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

“That behavior was unconscionable for our country. There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a conservative stalwart who had served throughout the administration.

“Impressionable children are watching all this, and they are learning from us,” she said in a letter to Trump.

“They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Republican Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell, earlier said it was “a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the president stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed.”

“It has deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside,” she added.

Several Democratic lawmakers dismissed her resignation as posturing. “Rats leaving a sinking ship,” as Jackie Speier, a California congresswoman, said on Twitter.

Democrats said that the secretaries should have instead worked to remove Trump from power under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which allows a majority of the cabinet to vote to remove the chief executive if he is deemed unfit to serve.

Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — who had predicted Trump would give up power graciously — said he was quitting his diplomatic position as US envoy for Northern Ireland.

“I can’t stay here, not after yesterday. You can’t look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form,” Mulvaney told CNBC television.

“Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in,” he said.

Trump in a video later Thursday finally acknowledged that he would be leaving office on January 20 and condemned the violence but did not congratulate Biden.

‘Stay on’

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a key architect of Trump’s hawkish stance on China, resigned hours after the unprecedented scenes at the Capitol.

Another departure was Stephanie Grisham, a former White House press secretary now working as spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump.

US media reported that Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, had been barred from entering the White House — apparently in retaliation for Pence’s decision to ignore Trump’s demand that he block the certification of Biden’s win.

In another sign of upheaval, Trump on Thursday withdrew his nomination of Chad Wolf for the permanent job at the head of the Department of Homeland Security, where he is now acting chief.

This came just after Wolf said he found the action by Trump’s supporters in the halls of Congress “sickening” and urged the president to “strongly condemn” the violence.

The outrage across Washington is feeding growing speculation that more senior Trump administration figures may be leaving.

Particular focus has been put on Robert O’Brien, who holds the key post of national security advisor.

O’Brien raised eyebrows during the siege of the Capitol by saying he had spoken with Pence and was “proud to serve with him,” not mentioning Trump.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a heavyweight supporter of Trump during his tumultuous one-term presidency, begged top officials to stay put for the sake of stability.

“To those who believe you should leave your post now to make a statement, I would urge you not to,” he said, urging O’Brien in particular to “stay on.” sms-sct/bfm Agence France-Presse