Despite promises of smooth transition of power to Joe Biden, Congressional Democrats accused US President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection and weighed up impeaching him for a second time after supporters fired up by his false claims of election fraud stormed the US Capitol this week.
After two of his cabinet secretaries quit in protest following Wednesday's mayhem, an unusually tame Trump 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.
"This moment calls for healing and reconciliation," Trump said in a video released on Twitter after a temporary suspension, a jarring shift of tone a day after a rally in which he encouraged thousands of supporters to march on the Capitol.
Trump said "those who broke the law, you will pay."
"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.
However, yesterday, he said he would not attend his successor's swearing-in.
"To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th," Trump tweeted, making formal what many had long assumed: that Trump would eschew the traditional step of personally demonstrating the peaceful hand-off of power to President-elect Joe Biden. He'll be the first outgoing president to skip his replacement's inauguration in more than 150 years.
Meanwhile, the two top Democrats in Congress urged his immediate removal, fearing damage he can still inflict in his less than two weeks left in the world's most powerful job.
And the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal piled on, calling for Trump "to take personal responsibility and resign."
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 on Thursday 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.
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 to impeach Trump for an unprecedented second time in the hopes that the Senate will 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."
Reuters yesterday reported that Pelosi also yesterday spoke to the top US military commander General Mark Milley about taking precautions to ensure that Trump cannot initiate hostilities or order a nuclear strike in his remaining 12 days in office.
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 would make Pence the acting president.
"The president is unfit," Kinzinger said. "And the president is unwell."
However, the New York Times on Thursday reported that Pence is opposed to using the 25th Amendment to force Trump from office. While Pence has not spoken publicly about invoking the mechanism, never used before in US history, the newspaper cited a person close to the vice president saying he is against the radical move.
The Times said Pence's stance is supported by several cabinet members.
Meanwhile Democrats in the US House of Representatives said that if the 25th Amendment is not invoked they will move quickly to impeach Trump.
Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark yesterday said if Pence and other cabinet members do not remove Trump from office, then impeachment proceedings will start next week. Democrats in the House of Representatives were due to hold a conference call to discuss this at noon yesterday (17:00 GMT).
In another development, US justice department on Thursday confirmed that US federal investigators were examining everyone who might have played a role in the violence - and that includes considering possible charges against Trump.
"We are looking at all actors, not only the people who went into the building," said acting US attorney Michael Sherwin, Washington's top federal prosecutor.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and is one of Trump's longest-serving cabinet members, announced she would resign over the "entirely avoidable" violence at the Capitol.
On Thursday evening Education Secretary Betsy DeVos became the second cabinet member to quit, telling Trump in a letter that such "behavior was unconscionable for our country."
Others who resigned included Mick Mulvaney, a former Trump chief of staff who is now US special envoy to Northern Ireland, and the deputy national advisor, Matt Pottinger, an architect of Trump's hawkish line on China.
The torrent of condemnation came as Capitol Police said Officer Brian Sicknick had died at a hospital of injuries sustained during clashes with the crowd-waving mob, which overwhelmed police and forced their way into the legislature.
It was the first law enforcement death from a day of violence which also left four protesters dead, including a woman who was shot and killed by police. Three other deaths were reported on the Capitol grounds, but the circumstances remained unclear.
Bipartisan anger has mounted since the riot over the failure of law enforcement to prevent the mobs from entering Congress.
Steven Sund, the chief of the 2,300-strong Capitol Police, handed in his resignation, and lawmakers vowed a thorough investigation on security lapses.