US Vice President Mike Pence has ruled out using the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office.
In a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr Pence said the mechanism should not be used “as a means of punishment or usurpation” and reserved for cases of medical or mental incapacitation.
Ms Pelosi had called on Mr Pence to secure the majority of the Cabinet and vote to declare Mr Trump unfit to serve – less than a week after the president fomented the violent insurrection at the Capitol.
As the House appears on the cusp of a bipartisan impeachment of Mr Trump, Mr Pence encouraged Congress to avoid actions to “further divide and inflame the passions of the moment” and to focus on smoothing the transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
Following Mr Pence’s decision not to use the 25th Amendment against the president, Ms Pelosi told her colleagues on the House floor Mr Trump must be charged because of the “seditious attack” on the Capitol.
She said: “I urge my Republican colleagues to open their eyes and to finally hold this president accountable.
“The story of our country, and the future of our very democracy, are at stake.”
Despite Mr Pence’s letter, the House on Tuesday night passed a largely-symbolic resolution urging Mr Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and “declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office”.
Meanwhile, at least five Republican legislators, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney, announced they would vote to impeach Mr Trump, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Ms Cheney said in a statement.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Representatives Adam Kinzinger and John Katko had earlier become the first rank-and-file party legislators to say they would vote to impeach Mr Trump, and were later joined by Fred Upton and Jaime Herrera Beutler.
Mr Trump warned the legislators off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.
“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Mr Trump said.
In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence”.
The House will now move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.
The president faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.
Though a handful of House Republicans will join the impeachment vote, it is far from clear if there would then be the two-thirds vote needed to convict from the narrowly divided Senate.