What Donald Trump's impeachment means and his chances of a comeback

The House of Representatives has voted to impeach Donald Trump, making him the first president in US history to be impeached twice.

Ten Republicans joined Democrats in voting for impeachment over Mr Trump’s role riling up a mob of supporters who stormed the US Capitol last week, leaving five dead.

The article, which charging him with “incitement of insurrection”, carried by 232 votes to 197.

Trump will now face a trial in the Senate.

Democrats have demanded that the president is removed from office after he incited a violent mob to attack the US Capitol on Jan 6.

The resolution noted that Trump addressed a rally shortly before his supporters mounted the attack and says he made statements that “encouraged and foreseeably resulted in” the lawless actions at the Capitol.

As he addressed his supporters on January 6, Trump told the crowd to march on Congress and “fight like hell” in his attempt to overturn his election defeat to Joe Biden.

Trump could now could be barred from ever running for, or holding, public office again. 

The president was impeached in 2020 over claims he abused his power by holding back aid to Ukraine in the hope that its leader would investigate Joe Biden, his political rival. He was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate.

The US Democrats could delay an impeachment trial in the Senate until after Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office, a top official said, freeing up the incoming president to pursue his early agenda. 

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the process by which Congress puts certain officials, namely the president, on trial.  

The US constitution lays out a broad scope of offences that can lead to impeachment: “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

If a President is convicted of impeachment, he is immediately removed from office.

What would it mean for Donald Trump?

If Trump is convicted by the Senate before the end of his term, which is January 20, then he would be removed from office. However, given the timeframe is very narrow, it is more likely his Senate trial will be after he leaves. In that instance, the Senate may also vote on banning him from ever running for public office again.

If Trump is barred from ever running for, or holding, public office again, it would end any possible talk of a comeback run in 2024.

The US Senate has the power to prevent Trump from doing so, and a vote on this would only need to be passed by a simple majority. There is precedent for the Senate preventing public officials from seeking office again after impeachment. Judges Robert Archbald (in 1913) and West H Humphreys (in 1862) were both been banned from seeking office after impeachment, although this fate has never befallen a President before.

A vote on this can only take place after an impeachment vote.

Trump may also lose access to a raft of public benefits he would otherwise be entitled to.

According to the 1958 Former Presidents Act, he would be denied his $200,000 annual pension, a $1 million annual travel stipend and extra funding for his future staff. However, thanks to an order signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump will still be guaranteed his lifelong secret service detail.

If Trump attempted to pardon himself before leaving office, something that no president has attempted before, the situation would become significantly more murky.

How does it work and how many votes are needed?

Impeachment does not mean a president will necessarily be kicked out of office. It proceeds like a bill passing through legislature.

First, a majority in the House of Representatives – 218 out of 435 members – must approve articles of impeachment previously approved in committee.

The article of impeachment easily passed in the House.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict the president and consequently remove him from office – so the bill would need to be backed by a lot of Republicans for the bill to pass.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, released a statement moments after the vote passed calling for the trial to be held after Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Even though Trump would have left the White House by then he can still be convicted by the Senate.

Mr McConnell also did not rule out voting himself to convict Trump, instead saying in a statement that he had “not made a final decision”. 

In 2020, the Senate voted to reject the articles of impeachment and denied the need to remove the president from office over the claims of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

A number of Republicans in the Senate have strongly condemned Trump following the riot at the US Capitol – but it is not clear that enough of them will be prepared to move against the president.

In 2020, 52 Republican senators voted against the charge of abuse of power, and 53 against the charge of obstruction of Congress.

On the first charge, Mitt Romney defied his fellow Republicans, becoming the first senator in US history to vote to convict a President from their own party.

Fewer than one in five Republicans believe Donald Trump should be removed from office, according to a poll, while more than half want him to be the party’s presidential nominee at the next election in 2024.

This second impeachment vote has only been made possible by the fact that the Senate voted against removing Trump from office last year. Had he been convicted, he would have immediately been removed from office in 2020. However, no President has ever been removed from office via impeachment.

Can the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump?

Democrats hoping to use the 25th Amendment to oust Donald Trump from office were thwarted after Mike Pence said he opposed the move.

The US vice president, on Tuesday, Jan 12, announced that he would not be invoking the 25th Amendment, a mechanism that allows a majority of the cabinet to remove a president who cannot fulfil his duties. 

Mr Pence said in a letter to Ms Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker who backed a resolution calling for the move, that it would “set a terrible precedent”.

The House may still vote to invoke the Amendment but Mr Pence is not required to act upon it. 

Ms Pelosi had said on Jan 10 that she would give Mr Pence 24 hours to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from office before launching impeachment proceedings.

However, such a move needed to be backed by Mr Pence and a majority of Mr Trump’s cabinet.

There were media reports that some cabinet members were discussing the possibility, but it remains unclear how seriously it was considered.

John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, on Jan 7 called on the cabinet to meet to discuss removing the president and said he would vote for removal if he was still a cabinet member. But Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who has been close to Trump throughout his presidency, came out against invoking the 25th Amendment. 

On Jan 11, House Democrats formally launched an article of impeachment against Mr Trump with the charge of “incitement of insurrection”.

This was after House Republicans blocked the request from Democrats to unanimously pass a resolution calling on Mr Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, after inciting a mob of his supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan 6.

Read more: What is the 25th Amendment?

What happened in 2020?

The first plan to impeach Trump arose following accusations in 2019 that he obstructed justice, but it was not until the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in November in the midterm elections that impeachment became a realistic prospect in this term.

Nancy Pelosi initially ruled out impeaching Trump, citing opinion polls showing the public were not on board. She would note the need for a bipartisan approach if impeachment was to have a chance of succeeding. But the House Speaker changed her mind. In September, Ms Pelosi announced the Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings.

Ms Pelosi said the trigger for action was that Trump held back aid to Ukraine in the hope its leader would investigate Joe Biden, the former US vice president who was then a Democrat candidate for president. 

Is there an election after a presidential impeachment?

No. In the event that Trump is impeached by the Senate, vice president Mike Pence would immediately take the oath of office and become president for the remaining days of the administration, until Biden assumes office on Jan 20.

Vice President Mike Pence

Do impeached officials go to prison?

Impeachment is a political process, not criminal.  

Congress has no power to impose criminal penalties on impeached presidents or officials. However criminal courts could try to punish officials if they are believed to have committed crimes.

Some Democrats have called for criminal charges against Trump for inciting riot, treason and sedition, though this seems unlikely to happen.

“There isn’t any judicial review of impeachment decisions, so Congress just needs to be satisfied that Trump committed high crimes or misdemeanours,” Jens David Ohlin, a law professor and associate dean at Cornell Law School, said.

“They are the ultimate judge of what meets that standard.”

Impeachment therefore is at the crossroads of politics and the law. “There’s no requirement that the president must have been indicted” for a crime, Prof Ohlin added.

Richard Nixon

History of impeachment

No US president has ever been ousted from office under impeachment proceedings.

Andrew Johnson was the first leader to go through the process in 1868. He was charged with breaking the law after he tried to replace the US secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, without congressional permission.

At the time – in the aftermath of the civil war – the president was required to consult the Senate about such decisions. His impeachment passed to the Senate, where he escaped being removed from office by a one-vote margin.

The other president was Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

He was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998, but he was acquitted in the Senate trial. 

Richard Nixon would almost certainly have faced impeachment proceedings in 1974 over the Watergate scandal and undoubtedly would have been removed from office.

However, the disgraced president resigned before it got that far and he handed the presidency over to Gerald Ford.  

Source: What Donald Trump’s impeachment means and his chances of a comeback

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