Why remove Trump now? Guide to the second impeachment of a president


WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday impeached President Trump for the second time, a first in American history, accusing him of “inciting insurgency” a week after pushing a crowd of supporters who took to storms the Capitol as Congress meets to formalize the president-elect. Victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Democrats acted quickly to impeach Mr. Trump after the attack, which took place after he told his supporters at a rally near the National Mall to march on Capitol Hill in a bid to get Republicans to cancel his defeat. At least five people, including a Capitol Hill police officer, died during the siege and immediately after.

The process is proceeding at extraordinary speed and will test the limits of the impeachment process, raising questions never before considered. Here is what we know.

Impeachment is one of the most important tools the Constitution gives Congress to hold government officials, including the President, accountable for the fault and abuse of power.

Members of the House are considering whether to impeach the president – the equivalent of an indictment in a criminal case – and members of the Senate consider whether to remove him, holding a trial in which senators act as a jury. The test, as defined by the Constitution, is whether the president has committed “treason, bribery or other serious crimes and misdemeanors.”

The House vote only requires a simple majority of lawmakers to agree that the president has, in fact, committed serious crimes and misdemeanors; the Senate vote requires a two-thirds majority.

The article, written by Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Ted Lieu of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York, accuses Mr. Trump of “incitement to insurgency,” claiming he is guilty of “inciting violence against the United States government.”

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The article cites Mr. Trump’s week-long campaign to falsely discredit the November election results, and directly quotes the speech he gave on siege day in which he told his supporters to surrender at the Capitol. “If you don’t fight like a devil,” he said, “you won’t have a country.”

While the House has moved with remarkable speed to impeach Mr. Trump, the Senate trial to determine whether to impeach him cannot begin until January 19, his last full day in office. This means that any conviction would almost certainly not be over until after he left the White House.

Democrats have argued that Mr. Trump’s offense – using his power as leader of the country and commander-in-chief to incite an insurgency against the legislature – is so serious that it needs to be addressed, even within a few days of his term. Letting him go unpunished, Democrats argued, would set a dangerous precedent of impunity for future presidents.

“Is there little time left?” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and Majority Leader, said during the debate. “Yes. But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Republicans, many of whom voted to overturn the election results, have argued that going through the impeachment process so late in Mr. Trump’s tenure would foster unnecessary division and that the country would have to come out of the siege last week.

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A conviction in an impeachment trial would not automatically disqualify Mr. Trump from future public office. But if the Senate were to condemn it, the Constitution allows a subsequent vote to prohibit an official from performing “any function of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

This vote would only require a simple majority of senators. Such a move could be an attractive prospect not only for Democrats, but also for many Republicans who have set their sights on the presidency themselves or are convinced it is the only thing that will purge Mr. Trump of their party. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, would have the latter opinion.

There is, however, no precedent for disqualifying a president from future office, and the issue could end up in the Supreme Court.

Democrats who control the House can choose when to send their impeachment article to the Senate, in which case that chamber will have to move immediately to begin the trial. But since the Senate is not to hold an ordinary session before January 19, even if the House immediately shifts the charge to the other side of the Capitol, an agreement between the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate would be necessary to resume it before that date. . .

Mr McConnell said on Wednesday he would not agree to do so, which means the process could only be started the day before Mr Biden was sworn in. Given that the Senate needs time to set the rules for an impeachment trial, this means the proceedings would likely not begin until Mr. Biden is president and Democrats have operational control of the Senate.

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Once the Senate receives the charge of impeachment, it must immediately deal with the matter, as articles of impeachment carry the highest privilege. Under rules that have been in place for decades, impeachment is the only matter the Senate can consider while a trial is pending; it cannot simultaneously consider other legislative matters.

But Mr Biden asked Mr McConnell if it would be possible to change that rule, allowing the Senate to conduct Mr Trump’s impeachment trial on a parallel track to the scrutiny of his cabinet candidates, dividing his days between the two. Mr McConnell told Mr Biden he would consult with the Senate parliamentarian to see if that would be possible.

If such a forked process was not possible, House Democrats could choose to withhold the article to give Mr Biden time to gain confirmation from his team before a trial begins.

The Senate could hold a trial for Mr. Trump even after he leaves, although there is no precedent for this. Only two presidents other than Mr. Trump were removed from office – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – and both were ultimately acquitted and completed their terms.

Nicolas fandos contribution to reports.


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