Today Donald Trump became the first president in United States history to be impeached twice. He was first impeached in 2019, accused of pressuring the President of Ukraine to provide information on his political challenger Joe Biden. This evening, Trump was impeached again on the grounds of ‘incitement of an insurrection’ last Wednesday, when his address at a rally led to a violent mob storming the Capitol building to try to stop Biden’s formal confirmation as president.
While the vote in the House of Representatives was mostly split along party lines, ten Republicans broke from the party to support Trump’s impeachment, including Senator Liz Cheney — the third highest ranking Republican in the House.
Since last week’s riots, impeachment has been seen as one of two ways to remove Trump from office. The other option — invoking the. 25th Amendment — would require Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of the cabinet to remove the President’s powers. Yesterday the House passed a resolution calling on the VP to do so (with less Republican support), but ultimately that decision is in the hands of Pence, who has made clear he has no plans to do so. While, in theory, the 25th Amendment is a faster process for removing a sitting president from their position, in this case there is little doubt that Trump would have contested the decision, meaning that ultimately both processes would still require votes in Congress.
Like the last impeachment, the House’s decision is not the end of the story. It is up to the Senate to either convict or acquit the President, which will determine whether he is removed from office. Furthermore, conviction requires a two-thirds majority, which will mean a significant number of Republicans would have to move against the President. (In 2019, Senator Mitt Romney was the only Republican to break with his party and vote to convict Trump).
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has already rejected calls to convene the Senate and hold a vote, arguing ‘there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week.’ While this does not mean impeachment is completely off the table — a president can still be impeached after they’ve left office — it all but guarantees Trump will be seeing out his final week in office.
The House’s decision to push forward with impeachment has put the Republican party in an even more uncomfortable position than the one it has found itself after last week’s chaos. Party leaders’ calls for ‘unity’ simply won’t cut it. Elected Republicans — including many who aspire to higher office — are having to put, on record, the extent to which they condone or condemn the President’s actions last week.
The decision now sits with Senate Republicans, whose votes will have major implications for the party’s future, as well as Trump’s legacy, in more ways than one. Convicting the President wouldn’t simply define his legacy to date — it would bar him from running again in 2024.
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