More than 2,000 political scientists and counting, including 21 in Wisconsin, have signed an open letter calling on President Donald Trump’s removal from office after pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
The siege delayed the official certification of the presidential election and left five people dead. The letter calls on Congress, Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump, who has yet to concede the election, from office either through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.
“Our profession seeks to understand politics, not engage in it, but we share a commitment to democratic values,” the letter says. “The President’s actions show he is unwilling or unable to fulfill his oath to protect and defend the Constitution. He should be removed from office immediately before further violence takes place or further damage is done to our democracy.”
Twelve University of Wisconsin-Madison professors signed the letter: Eleanor Neff Powell, Michael Wagner, Mark Copelovitch, Steven Brooke, Jessica Weeks, Nils Ringe, Katherine Cramer, Dhavan Shah, Ben Marquez, Daniel Kapust, Yoshiko Herrera and Kenneth Mayer.
Herrera, a political science professor, said she sees the statement not as a partisan position, but “an effort to engage in politics in the national interest.
“We’re political scientists, but we’re also Americans,” Herrera said. “You can’t always divorce your general political views from your actions as political scientists. The idea here is that we have expertise to offer, and we needed to make that clear.”
Some Republican Congressmen from Wisconsin condemned the mob and the president, while others still plan to object to the counting of votes. Shah, a journalism professor, called the events “appalling to anyone of conscience on any side of the political aisle.”
Shah first heard about the letter from his friend Brendan Nyhan, a professor at Dartmouth College who specializes in misinformation. He said the list of signatories spans the ideological spectrum of political science and is indicative of the weight of Wednesday’s events.
“There are very conservative people from very conservative institutions; there are very liberal people from very liberal institutions. There are deeply qualitative and interpretative people; there are deeply empirical and positivist individuals,” Shah said. “These are people who would rarely take a position, most surely not one regarding a standing president. This is an outrageous moment. This is a moment that calls for outrage.”
It is “very, very unlikely” that the 25th Amendment remove Trump from power, Shah said. The act would require Pence and the majority of the Cabinet, many of whom have already resigned to agree the president is unfit for office. Pence is reported to already have said he opposes the move.
Impeaching Trump for the second time may also be unlikely, but the evidence is “hard to ignore,” Shah said. He added that he sees Representatives drawing up articles of impeachment and even discussing the 25th as inherently symbolic gestures.
Impeachment in the House followed by conviction in the Senate would have tangible, long-term effects, such as preventing another Trump campaign or merely setting precedent for future presidential behavior. However, Herrera said the immediate concern of national security feels most urgent.
“We now are in a situation where it’s not hypothetical, where we can say the U.S. did not have a peaceful transfer of power between presidents,” Herrera said. “Five people have died and the president’s role in inciting that violence is really serious and, among other things, disqualifies him from being president.”
Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 15 to more accurately explain the conditions under which Trump might be barred from holding future office.