Here’s How Impeaching Trump for the Second Time Could Turn Out
The final option available to lawmakers to punish Trump for encouraging the rioters is impeachment. Again.
So, in the wake of last week’s insurrection at the US Capitol, which left five people dead and the Trump White House in free fall, the final option available to lawmakers who want to punish the president for his role in encouraging the rioters is impeachment. Again.
This will no doubt be a complicated task in the waning days of the Trump presidency. No US president has faced impeachment twice. And there are many questions about how the process will play out, given Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the US in just nine days.
Impeachment: A Two-Step Process
Impeachment requires both chambers of Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate — to act. The House has the “sole power of impeachment” for federal officials, and all that is required is a simple majority to initiate proceedings. The House essentially takes on the role of a prosecutor, deciding if the charges warrant impeachment and a trial.
The Senate is where the actual trial takes place. Under the Constitution, the chamber acts like a court, with senators considering the evidence given by witnesses or any other form deemed suitable.
While these proceedings have many of the trappings of an actual court, it is important to bear in mind that impeachment is a political process.
This language has been the source of considerable debate, with some legal experts, like Trump’s first impeachment lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, that impeachable offenses are limited to actual crimes. Others (correctly) .
Conviction requires two-thirds of senators — a deliberately high threshold to prevent politically motivated impeachments from succeeding. No previous impeachment of a president has ever met this bar: , and were all acquitted.
Complicating Factors: Time, Shifting Majorities, and a Difficult Process
With only days left before Trump leaves office on 20 January, time is of the essence. Pelosi has said the Democrats in the House will start the process this week. They have listing one article of impeachment for “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States”.
The Constitution does not mandate any particular timeline for the proceedings to take place. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated a Senate trial , as the Senate is in recess until then.
Moving that date up would require all 100 senators to agree — an unlikely prospect.
Democrats are pushing for impeachment because the Constitution not only allows conviction but also provides for barring Trump from holding federal office again. This would thwart his ambitions to run for president in 2024 — a prospect not lost on .
The Constitution does not stipulate how many senators need to vote in favour of disqualifying an impeached official from holding office again, but the would suffice. This tool has also been used sparingly in the past: , and only for federal judges.
The bigger hurdle, however, is that it still requires Trump to first be convicted of impeachment by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Political Implications of Impeachment
This would distract from the critical goals Biden has for : tackling spiraling COVID infection numbers and the country’s lagging vaccination program, providing immediate financial relief to struggling families, rejoining international climate action efforts, and repairing the . Last, but not least, it would make confirmation of more difficult.
Achieving these goals while Trump sets off the political fireworks he so cherishes is implausible.
The Democrats have floated the idea of impeaching Trump before 20 January, but not sending the article of impeachment to the Senate for trial — or even longer — to give Biden a chance to get started on these initiatives. But a distraction is a distraction no matter when it happens.
Democrats would also do well to remember that political fortunes can change. It’s understandable to want to punish Trump for his actions, but rushing into a political trial in the Senate, which Democrats are bound to lose, may have unintended consequences for the future.
What’s to stop the Republicans from pursuing impeachments of future Democratic leaders they disagree with, even in the face of certain defeat in the Senate? This could poison the political atmosphere even further.
While this outcome is far from certain, the chances of conviction in a court of law would likely prove to be less toxic politically for both Democrats and Republicans alike.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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