- On January 21, the Senate will kick off its trial on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump – abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress.
- The US Senate holds a trial to acquit or convict Trump. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict Trump in order to remove him from office.
- Article I, Section 3 of the United States constitution says “judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honour.”
- After convicting a federal officer, the Senate must separately vote by simple majority to prevent them from holding a federal office in the future, meaning Trump could still theoretically win re-election.
- The scenario is highly implausible given the steadfast support of Trump’s base and a Republican-controlled Senate, but it shows how Trump has a route to redemption through the electoral process.
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On January 21, the Senate will kick off its trial on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump – abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress.
In December, the House of Representatives held a vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for abusing his office and obstructing Congress, setting the stage for an impeachment trial next month.
The House passed the abuse of power article by a vote of 230 to 197 to 1 and the obstruction of Congress article by a vote of 229 to 198 to 1.
Some conservative pundits have compared the impeachment inquiry to a coup, and have characterised Trump’s potential impeachment as the “ultimate penalty,” or final punishment as conservative commentator Brit Hume did in a November tweet.
But even if Trump were removed from his office by Congress, he could still redeem himself in the court of public opinion and through the electoral process.
The constitutional mechanism for the impeachment of a federal officer including presidents, vice presidents, and federal judges is laid out in Article II, Section 4 of the US constitution, which reads, “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
Now that the House has impeached Trump and appointed impeachment managers to argue the case, they go to the US Senate, which holds a trial on the charges overseen by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. A two-thirds majority of the US Senate, or 67 senators if all 100 are present, must vote to convict in order to remove him from office.
Congress has never removed a president with the impeachment process before in American history. While two previous US presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – were impeached by the House, both were acquitted in the Senate.
While the constitution lays out a mechanism to remove a president from office, it doesn’t prevent a president or other “civil officer” removed from their office by the impeachment process from running for office or being elected to federal office again.
Trump could theoretically run for office and be re-elected after a conviction in the Senate
Article I, Section 3 of the United States constitution explicitly says that in terms of political consequences, “judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States.” (Officers who are impeached can still be indicted and prosecuted in a court of law).
But according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report, being convicted and removed from office doesn’t automatically lead to the “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honour.” After convicting a federal officer, the Senate must separately vote by simple majority to prevent them from holding a federal office in the future.
Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, for example, was impeached and removed from his position as a federal judge by Congress, but later elected to the US House of Representatives because the US Senate did not vote to disqualify him from holding future office after convicting him.
To be sure, this scenario is highly unlikely.
It’s very unlikely for Trump to be convicted by the GOP-controlled Senate, which is currently made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats.
Trump currently benefits from a big “red wall” of 36 GOP senators from states where Trump’s approval rating swings more favourably, as Axios has reported. Fifteen of those senators are up for reelection in 2020, and an additional 10 senators represent states where Trump’s approval rating is underwater but are not up for reelection next year.
There are just five vulnerable GOP senators up for re-election next year in states where Trump’s approval rating, as tracked by Morning Consult polling, is underwater.
As Insider previously reported, Trump’s sky-high approval and favorability among the Republican Party and his takeover of the entire GOP apparatus means there is very little incentive for any Republican senators, including the vulnerable ones, to break with Trump knowing none of their colleagues have any reason to do so.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s weighted tracker of impeachment polling, Republicans have expressed consistent opposition to impeachment since March of this year even as this fall’s impeachment inquiry unfolded, with just 9.7% of Republicans currently supporting Trump’s impeachment.
The latest 2019 American Values Survey, conducted August 22 to September 15 by the Public Religion Research Institute, further found that forty-five per cent of Republicans without a college degree and fifty-five per cent of GOP respondents who named Fox as their primary news source – two demographics Trump relies on- say there was absolutely nothing Trump could do to lose their support.
If Trump’s base significantly abandoned him to the point where 20 GOP senators felt comfortable voting to remove him, it’s also unlikely that the American electorate would then vote to re-elect him.
Trump’s re-election would also be contingent on Vice President Mike Pence – who would become president if Trump were removed from office – stepping aside and not running for the Republican presidential nomination. Still, Trump has a theoretical route to be sworn in as president again in 2021 even if the Senate does remove him from office.
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