What to know about impeachment ahead of the inauguration



FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt delivers remarks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House in Washington. In Trump’s presidency, fact checking became a cottage industry unto itself. And “alternative facts” became a buzzphrase, coined by one of his admiring aides. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

President Donald Trump became the first U. S. president to be impeached twice on Jan. 13 for inciting an insurrection at the Capitol under false claims of a fraudulent election. Since the Senate will not meet before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the consequences of Trump’s impeachment are still uncertain.

What is significant about Trump’s second impeachment?

Regardless of the results of the Senate trial regarding impeachment— whether he is convicted or acquitted— Trump will go down in history as the first president to be impeached twice. The House voted to impeach the president in a vote of 232-197. Unlike Trump’s first impeachment, in which there was no GOP support in the House, 10 Republicans voted to impeach the president. Among them was Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina who was one of 147 Republicans in Congress that voted to overturn the election results. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gavels in the final vote of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, for his role in inciting an angry mob to storm the Congress last week, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP)

The House of Representatives has only voted to impeach a president four times, including Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Richard Nixon was also subject to impeachment proceedings in 1973 for obstruction of justice and abuse of power as a result of the Watergate Scandal, but Nixon resigned before he could be impeached. 

Polls for support of Trump’s removal from office following the Capitol riots show that 52.8 percent of Americans support the president’s removal from office, as of Jan. 15. When divided by party, 85.1 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of Independents and 15.8 percent of Republicans support the removal of President Trump from office. 

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Unlike the previous impeachment proceeding in 2019, the House quickly drafted and released the final resolution to impeach Trump. The House voted to impeach the president just one week after the riots at the Capitol. 

Why impeachment?

Following the events of Jan. 6, there were various other avenues that could have been taken other than impeachment. Trump could have resigned, but as predicted by experts, he did not. Vice President Mike Pence and half of the Cabinet could have voted to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would allow them to declare Trump unfit to serve. Prior to drafting the articles of impeachment, House Democrats called on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment but he said that it wouldn’t be “in the best interest of our Nation.”

So, the House pursued impeachment. The House took its final vote to impeach the president last Wednesday, leaving only seven days for the Senate to hold a trial to remove Trump from office. Since the Senate did not meet to remove the president before Jan. 20, the president cannot be formally removed from office as a result of impeachment. 

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This leaves the question, what could happen next?

What happens now?

The Senate is in the process of shifting, from a narrow Republican majority to a narrow Democrat majority. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the newly elected Democratic senators from Georgia, and Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state who is set to succeed Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, could be sworn in as early as this week, granting Democrats the majority in the Senate with Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. 

It is still uncertain when Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send over the article of impeachment charging President Trump with “incitement of insurrection,” at which point the Senate will have to immediately move to trial. 

President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, will not be a part of the president’s defense in the incoming impeachment trial, a person close to Trump said on Monday, The New York Times reported. After previously telling ABC News on Saturday that he would be involved in the impeachment defense, Giuliani told ABC the next day that he would not be a part of the defense as he is a possible witness since he gave a speech to Trump supporters at the Jan. 6 rally. 

FILE – In this Nov. 7, 2020, file photo Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holds hands with President-elect Joe Biden and her husband Doug Emhoff as they celebrate in Wilmington, Del. Black policy leaders will play a pivotal role in President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, marking one of the most diverse presidential agency review teams in history. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) (AP)

Since the trial will occur after Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the Senate may still vote to prevent Trump from holding office again. The Constitution determines that after the House of Representatives votes to impeach a president, the Senate must hold a trial to decide if a president must be removed from office and are then able to vote for their disqualification from holding future office. 

“Judgement in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or profit under the United States,” Article 1 of the Constitution states.

Conviction requires a two-thirds vote, but disqualification from office would only take a simple majority vote. 

The looming impeachment trial comes at a fraught time in the political process, with Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and the president-elect’s hope to begin processing his administration nominations and pandemic relief legislation. To do so amongst a Senate trial will most likely require consent from both parties.