WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has become the first president in American history to be impeached twice. But being impeached is not the same as being convicted and kicked out of office or barred from holding it again.
Here’s what happened and what could be next.
What are the consequences?
Trump will go down in history as being the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. If the Senate convicts him before he leaves office on Jan. 20, he will be removed, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that the chamber will not take up the matter before Trump leaves office. If it convicted him, the Senate could take another vote to bar him from holding office again.
Why a second impeachment?
Impeaching Trump in his final days in office was not on Congress’s to-do list. But then the riot at the Capitol happened Jan. 6.
Congress convened under tense circumstances after Trump’s months-long quest to undermine the 2020 presidential election, contest his loss, and interfere in the counting of electoral votes and confirming that Joe Biden will be the next president.
Congress’ role in who is president is largely a formality. But scores of Republican lawmakers, including a majority of GOP House members, planned to use an 1880s law to object to seating electors from swing states Trump lost. That’s despite the fact that all states met the legal requirements for Congress and despite the fact that none of those challenges could get the votes to succeed.
As they got started, Trump was on the Ellipse, addressing supporters whom he had invited to Washington to “be there, will be wild,” and whom he urged that day to “fight like hell” to try to overturn his loss.
As debate about the first GOP challenge got underway, hundreds of those supporters stormed the Capitol, overwhelming Capitol Police and forcing lawmakers and staff members to flee the chambers. Five people’s deaths, including a Capitol Police officer’s, were linked to the riot.
Shaken members of Congress returned hours later and confirmed Biden’s win.
Democrats and some Republicans started calling for Trump’s removal from office immediately. On Tuesday, several top House Republicans said they supported impeaching him.
“The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, said in a statement, adding, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Why not other consequences?
There were a few options besides impeachment to get Trump out before he has to leave by noon Jan. 20. He could resign. Or Vice President Mike Pence and half the Cabinet could vote to remove him based on a section of the 25th Amendment that allows them to declare him unfit to serve. Pence said removing Trump now would not be “in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution.”
House Democrats called on Pence to remove the president this way before they moved to impeach Trump, but while there were talks in the Cabinet of doing so, there was no action. Some Cabinet members resigned over Trump’s role in the riot, removing themselves from involvement in taking this unprecedented step.
Some constitutional law experts argue that Congress could use a lesser-known provision in the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office, by voting that he “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” and thus can’t hold office again. They say that would take only a majority vote, though it could be open to court challenges.
House Democrats, more than 300 historians, constitutional law experts and some Republicans have said Trump poses more danger the longer he stays in office after encouraging the riot.
“We cannot let this go unanswered,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., wrote in a New York Times opinion article, speaking for many in his party. “With each day, Mr. Trump grows more and more desperate. We should not allow him to menace the security of our country for a second longer.”
The impeachment article goes to the Senate for a trial on whether to convict or acquit the president. The Senate is in the process of changing hands, from a narrow Republican majority to a narrow Democratic majority.
The timing of the House vote, less than a week before Biden is to be sworn in, means the Senate trial will happen under a Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats would get to outline how the trial would work.
But it could require the Senate to stop all business for a few days, including confirming Biden’s Cabinet. (Some House Democratic leaders have suggested refraining from sending the impeachment article to the Senate until Biden is more settled with his administration.) Biden asked the Senate whether it could split the day in two, confirming his nominees and holding a trial. It’s unclear whether the Senate can do that.
The consequences for Trump are unclear. A president can probably be convicted after leaving office, but to convict Trump requires support of two-thirds of the Senate, more than the Democratic majority. Democrats would need 17 Senate Republicans to join them, and they do not seem to have that support. Three Republican senators have expressed openness to impeachment or to getting Trump out of office after the Capitol riot – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“I want him out. I want him to resign. He has caused enough damage,” Murkowski said in the days after the invasion.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Senate Republican to vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment, has expressed hesitation that impeachment is the right way to go, though he also has said he thinks the president should be held accountable in some way.
McConnell has said he’s furious with Trump for what happened and does not plan to speak to him again, reported The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker. The Post has confirmed that he told others that Trump probably committed impeachable offenses.
Barring a president from running for office again would require removal from office, then a majority vote.
What the new impeachment article says
The article the House voted on 232-197 is short but makes three main points, mainly that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” because:
1. He falsely claimed he won the election: “Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd of his political supporters nearby. There, he reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ “
2. He encouraged the riot: “He willfully made statements that encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – imminent lawless action at the Capitol. Incited by President Trump, a mob unlawfully breached the Capitol, injured law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress and the Vice President, interfered with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the election results, and engaged in violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”
3. He’d been putting actions to his words to try to overturn his loss: The article mentions a recent call Trump held with Georgia’s secretary of state urging him to “find” just enough votes to overturn Biden’s win there.
What Republicans are saying
Republican lawmakers are not defending Trump’s actions, but few are publicly acknowledging his role in inciting the violent mob and trying to undermine a presidential election.
Most House Republicans have been lining up behind the argument that impeachment would be too divisive for the country, and they are trying not to acknowledge Trump’s role in the rhetoric that led to the storming of the Capitol. They have offered alternatives such as censure, a much weaker option.
The majority of Senate Republicans are silent about what they think should happen to Trump. Some argue that impeachment is a bad idea.
“I think letting the president stew in his own juices is probably the right way to go here,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally who stopped his support for Trump after the riot, told The Post on Monday after meeting with the president. “Impeachment is going to reignite the problem, and we’ve got nine days to go here. It will do more harm than good, and I’m hoping that people on our side will see it that way.”
Trump, who used his now-defunct Twitter account to defend himself throughout his first impeachment trial, on Tuesday morning called the new impeachment effort “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”
What happened in the last impeachment
After months of debate within the Democratic Party about whether to impeach Trump for his efforts to block a government Russia investigation, in the fall of 2019, Democrats moved forward with impeaching Trump for pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden. They went slowly, starting with an impeachment investigation in which they called about a dozen witnesses before having some dramatically testify, often in defiance of Trump’s orders not to.
By December 2019, Trump was impeached by the Democratic House in a mostly party-line vote for two articles: abuse of power and obstructing Congress’s inquiry. In January, the Republican-controlled Senate held a relatively quick trial without calling new witnesses and acquitted Trump. Only one Republican senator, Romney, voted to convict Trump on one of the articles.