By a margin of 232 to 197 votes, the United States House of Representatives, acting in its official constitutional capacity, has impeached President Donald Trump for his role in instigating a mob of his supporters to violently interrupt the work of Congress as it sought to confirm the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The Article of Impeachment claims that Trump sought to interrupt vote counting, attempted to influence Georgia election officials specifically to overturn the race in that state, and most notably, encouraged a mob of his own loyalists to violently descend upon the Capitol in order to disrupt the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Trump “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government,” the charging document states. “He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California), speaking on the House floor during debate on the article of impeachment, explained why it was important to take action now, less than one week before Trump is set to leave office.
“We know that the president of the United State[s] incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country,” Pelosi said in her remarks. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”
She also implored others in the House to join her in voting to remove Trump:
Is the president’s war on democracy in keeping with the Constitution? Were his words and insurrectionary mob a high crime and misdemeanor? Do we not have a duty to our oath to do all we constitutionally can to protect our nation and our democracy from the appetites and ambitions of a man who has self-evidently demonstrated that he is a vital threat to liberty, to self-government and to the rule of law?
This is the second time in Trump’s four-year tenure as president that he has been impeached by the House. Trump was previously impeached by the House in late 2019, based on charges from the House that he had abused his power as president to influence a foreign nation to help him win reelection. Early in 2020, however, the United States Senate voted against indicting him.
This time around, one aspect of the impeachment process is noticeably different: There is bipartisan support for Trump’s removal. In 2019, when Trump faced his first impeachment, no Republican in the House voted in favor of the charges that Democratic leaders in the chamber had brought against him. One lawmaker, then-Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican from Michigan who became an Independent before impeachment, did join with Democrats to vote in favor of Trump’s impeachment.
Prior to this week’s impeachment vote, however, at least five members of the GOP caucus, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming), the third-ranking Republican member in the House, signaled they would join Democrats in voting for Trump’s impeachment. After the final vote tally was taken, a total of 10 Republicans ended up voting in favor of the president’s removal from office.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President,” Cheney had said prior to Thursday’s vote, explaining her decision to support impeachment.
Because of the bipartisan nature of impeachment this time around, all eyes will now be on the Senate, where it’s uncertain what path the trial for Trump’s impeachment will take. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who has been a staunch ally of the president throughout Trump’s time in office, is reportedly angry over the president’s actions during the past week.
Reporting from The New York Times has indicated that McConnell privately views the Capitol breach on January 6 and Trump’s rhetoric that led to it as impeachable offenses. The newspaper also stated that McConnell sees Trump’s impeachment as a possible means to an end — of purging him from the Republican Party.
It’s widely believed that a number of other Republican senators — as many as 20, in fact — may be open to the idea of impeachment as well. However, an impeachment trial for Trump won’t be likely to begin until after Biden is sworn in, as aides in McConnell’s office indicated on Wednesday he wouldn’t agree to reconvene the Senate to hold such proceedings. The Senate is not set to meet again until January 19.
The Constitution stipulates that two-thirds of the Senate must agree to convict the president in order for the president to be removed from office. If every Democrat and independent senator who caucuses with that party voted in favor, at least 17 Republican votes would be required in order to successfully convict Trump.
In 2019, only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted in favor of convicting Trump following his impeachment by the House.
Many other unknowns remain at this time on the Senate side, including how fast the impeachment process itself could play out. It’s possible that the Senate trial may not even begin until after Trump leaves office and Biden is inaugurated as president.
While that would mean Congress would be incapable of removing Trump from the presidency before his tenure is up, many have argued it would still be beneficial to impeach him. An impeachment after he leaves office would mean that Trump could no longer receive the perks of being a former president — including hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in pension, as well as a $1 million travel stipend.
It could also potentially bar Trump from holding federal office ever again, preventing him from seeking the presidency four years from now. According to the Constitution, the Senate, upon voting to convict the president, can take a subsequent vote to disqualify the impeached president from being able “to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” Such a vote would only require a simple majority approval, but only if impeachment is successful.
Proponents of impeachment are arguing that even if the process doesn’t lead to Trump’s direct removal, it still sends the clear and important signal that the president’s incitement of the attack on Congress is not an acceptable action to be repeated by future chief executives.
“Some people ask: Why would you impeach and convict a president who has only a few days left in office?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) recently tweeted. “The answer: Precedent. It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the U.S. government.”