The education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has become the second person in Trump’s cabinet to resign in the wake of the attack on the Capitol on Wednesday by pro-Trump rioters who had been encouraged by the president.
Her resignation on Thursday night came after the transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, stood down earlier in the day.
In a letter to Trump, DeVos said the attack on the Capitol was unconscionable and blamed Trump’s “rhetoric” for “the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the US Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business”.
“There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me,” she wrote, adding that her resignation would be effective on Friday.
DeVos was one of Trump’s longest, and most controversial, cabinet members. She was a staunch ally of charter schools, rescinded anti-discrimination protections for trans children, and threatened to take funding from schools that allowed trans athletes to participate on teams that matched their gender. In a farewell letter to Congress earlier this week, she urged lawmakers to reject policies supported by Joe Biden.
The American Federation of Teachers issued a pithy two word statement on her departure: “Good riddance.”
Chao, the transportation secretary, is married to the Senate majority leader and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, who delayed acknowledging Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in November’s election.
There were a string of other resignations on Wednesday and Thursday. Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, former chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, and Ryan Tully, the top White House adviser on Russia, also stepped down.
Two other senior White House officials – the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and the deputy chief of staff, Chris Liddell – are reportedly considering stepping down after a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building.
Pottinger and Mulvaney’s departures come amid intense speculation about other high-level departures after the US president incited and praised rioters while continuing to air baseless grievances over his loss of the presidency.
“I called [secretary of state] Mike Pompeo last night to let him know I was resigning from that. I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” Mulvaney told CNBC on Thursday morning.
“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.”
Chao on Thursday afternoon posted a message to Twitter.
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the U.S. Department of Transportation. pic.twitter.com/rFxPsBoh6t
— Sec. Elaine Chao (@SecElaineChao) January 7, 2021
So far eight officials associated with Trump and his inner circle have said they are quitting, including members of Melania Trump’s team, after the deadly violence that surrounded the congressional vote to certify Joe Biden’s November presidential election victory.
Trump’s pledge early on Thursday to an “orderly transition” to Joe Biden on 20 January was partly intended to head off further resignations, but was not likely to stop some departures, especially from the national security staff, a senior unnamed official told the Reuters news agency.
Senior Republican figures have also indicated splits from the president.
Tweeting from his personal account, O’Brien – a staunch Trump loyalist – praised the behaviour of the vice-president, Mike Pence, who resisted Trump’s pressure to overturn the election certification, while making no mention of Trump.
“I just spoke with Vice-President Pence. He is a genuinely fine and decent man,” he tweeted. “He exhibited courage today as he did at the Capitol on 9/11 as a congressman. I am proud to serve with him.”
In further fallout that underlined the fracturing of the Trump administration’s inner circles, Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, indicated to journalists he had been banned from the White House by Trump after the president “blamed” him for advice he gave to Pence on Trump’s demands he overturn the election result.
According to reports in the US media, some senior administration officials have also begun talking informally about invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president before his term expires on 20 January, while calls are also growing for a second impeachment to ensure Trump cannot run for public office again.
In stark language that underlined the toxic and swirling sense of crisis, the Washington Post quoted one administration official describing Trump’s behaviour on Wednesday as that of “a monster”, while another said the situation was “insane” and “beyond the pale”.
Two of the first lady’s top aides resigned on Wednesday night, including Stephanie Grisham, a longtime Trump loyalist who previously served as White House press secretary. Anna Cristina Niceta, the White House social secretary, also resigned.
The deputy White House press secretary, Sarah Matthews, also announced her resignation, saying she was “deeply disturbed” by the storming of the Capitol.
“I was honored to serve in the Trump administration and proud of the policies we enacted. As someone who worked in the halls of Congress I was deeply disturbed by what I saw today,” Matthews said in a statement. “I’ll be stepping down from my role, effective immediately. Our nation needs a peaceful transfer of power.”
The sense of anger within a Republican party at war with itself was increasingly in full view. “[Trump] screwed his supporters, he screwed the country and now he’s screwed himself,” a 2016 Trump campaign official told Politico.
The former New Jersey governor Chris Christie – who said he repeatedly tried to call Trump during the crisis – also laid the blame squarely at Trump’s feet.
“The president caused this protest to occur,” Christie told ABC News. “He is the only one who can make it stop.”