In the final weeks of his term, Donald Trump achieved some ignominious firsts: The first U.S. president to be impeached twice by the House of Representatives, and the first to be accused of “incitement to insurrection.” He will also be the first impeached president to be tried in the Senate after leaving office, a process expected to begin after senators receive the article on Jan. 25. If lawmakers convict Mr. Trump for his role in Jan. 6′s Capitol Hill riot, or decide to disqualify him from future political office, it could have lasting consequences for the conservative movement he’s created. Here’s what you need to know.
Articles of impeachment against Trump
To impeach, Congress has to write up specific allegations of wrongdoing, called articles of impeachment, that point to “high crimes and misdemeanours” committed by the president.
For Mr. Trump’s first impeachment in late 2019, there were two articles: One alleged Mr. Trump abused his power by threatening to withhold U.S. military aid so his Ukrainian counterpart would investigate Joe Biden (then his political rival, now the President); the other alleged that Mr. Trump obstructed justice to cover this up. It took the fall and winter of 2019 to come up with the wording of the articles because the alleged crimes took place largely behind closed doors, and the House Judiciary Committee held hearings first to sort out conflicting accounts of what happened.
This time, Mr. Trump’s offence – encouraging a crowd of thousands to “fight like hell” for him while Congress was confirming Mr. Biden’s Electoral College votes – took place on live television, as did the deadly and destructive mob attack on the legislature that followed. So the Democrats didn’t wait long: They introduced a single impeachment article on Jan. 11 accusing him of “incitement of insurrection.” It argues that his incendiary remarks “encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action at the Capitol” and “gravely endangered the security of the United States.” Two days later, the article was passed 232-197.
The Senate is the only body that can hold a trial to remove an impeached president from office. Last time, the Senate was Republican-controlled and it voted to acquit Mr. Trump of both abuse of power and obstruction of justice. This time, the parties are tied, but Democrats have a narrow majority because Vice-President Kamala Harris is the tiebreaker.
Senators will receive the article of impeachment on Jan. 25, beginning a trial that will be both “full” and “fair,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Jan. 22. To convict, two-thirds of the Senate will need to vote in favour of removal from office, which means at least some Republicans must be on board.
The 25th Amendment explained
There was a simpler and faster alternative to impeaching Mr. Trump, but Pence refused to support it when he was still vice-president, despite a House resolution that asked him to.
The 25th Amendment was introduced in the 1960s, after the Kennedy assassination, to create a formal process for the vice-president to assume power if their boss were killed or incapacitated. The part that might have applied in Mr. Trump’s case is in Section 4:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
The vice-president has a lot of legal room to interpret “unable” very broadly, not just in medical terms. In other words, the Vice-President and cabinet could have decided Mr. Trump was mentally unfit to be President and made Mr. Pence the acting president immediately.
Alternatively, Congress could have issued a law designating some group other than the cabinet to make this call, as Ms. Pelosi proposed to do with a special panel, but the final House resolution did not do this. In the end, Mr. Trump left office in the usual way, and the 25th Amendment was not used.
What would the Senate trial mean for Trump?
No more in ’24
U.S. presidents are limited to two terms each, but there’s little to stop a one-term president from running again four years after a defeat, as Grover Cleveland did successfully in the 1890s. One thing that could stop Mr. Trump from doing this is removal through impeachment. The Senate wouldn’t even necessarily have to convict Mr. Trump to do this: After voting on the impeachment, they can hold a disqualification vote that would bar him from future office.
Removal through impeachment would be a small but significant blow to Mr. Trump’s finances because it’d disqualify him from the pension, health insurance and office and security budgets that ex-presidents are entitled to.
Reconciling the parties
For Mr. Biden, who took office on Jan. 20 with a message of bipartisanship and healing divisions, the longer-term benefit of impeachment would be to show Democrats and Republicans working together after years of seeing each other as intractable enemies. This is one reason why Mr. Biden is largely staying out of discussions about whether to impeach Mr. Trump, saying that “what the Congress decides to do is for them to decide.”
Commentary and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Adrian Morrow, The Associated Press and Reuters
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