Here’s how Trump’s impeachment — part 2 — could work. It’s pretty similar to the last impeachment, only way sped up.
1. House lawmakers draw up articles of impeachment
There are already at least two articles of impeachment circulating, including one drafted by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday. Another drafted by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) calls for impeaching Trump for inciting an insurrection and has more than 130 cosponsors, a majority of House Democrats, reports The Post’s Mike DeBonis. It reads in part: “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coordinate branch of government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
2. They vote on them
It only takes a majority in the House to impeach a president, and Democrats hold that majority. At least one Republican, maybe a few more, might be open to it, too — Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) in particular has been outspoken about getting Trump out of office after what happened (though he explicitly supported the 25th Amendment, which would require Trump’s Cabinet to shoulder most of the work.)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seems to think that she has the votes for this, or she likely wouldn’t have called for it Thursday as an option. (She urged Vice President Pence and Trump’s Cabinet to get him out of office first.) She issued a statement Friday saying if Trump didn’t leave office by another method, she’d have the House move forward with impeachment. It would require her calling the House back into session, since they don’t have plans to come back until just before Biden’s inauguration.
3. The timing can be seriously sped up
Impeachment took months last time and went through not one but two House committees. Democrats investigated Trump’s Ukraine actions, wrote up articles of impeachment, and voted on them in committee, then the House floor. They don’t have that kind of time, nor do they need it. The chairman of the committee that normally handles impeachment said Thursday he’d support sending the articles of impeachment straight to the House floor.
Congress wouldn’t be breaking any rules that way, said Georgetown Law constitutional scholar and author Josh Chafetz. The constitution doesn’t specify any procedures the House has to follow to impeach an executive branch official. In fact, he noted that when the House impeached President Andrew Johnson, they actually did it before they wrote up formal articles of impeachment.
4. They send the articles of impeachment to the Senate
The constitution says that the Senate needs to hold a trial and vote to convict a president to get him out of office. And it requires two-thirds of senators to agree to convict him, which would require a sizable number of Republicans to get on board.
This is where things get politically tricky, just like last time. The top Senate Democrat said he supports impeachment. But it’s not up to him.
Are Senate Republicans, who control the majority for a few more weeks, mad at Trump for what happened? Absolutely. Do enough of them want to be the ones to kick him out of office with just days left in his term? There’s no indication of that — right now.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally who has essentially broken it off with the president, said he wouldn’t support getting him out of office. But he left the door open a crack: “If something else happens, all options would be on the table,” he qualified. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump last time, and he brushed off impeachment, saying Thursday he didn’t think there was enough time: “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 days.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a Trump critic, told CBS on Friday that he’d be open to it because “I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office.”
We haven’t heard from a ton of other Republican senators on this, but more could speak out one way or the other.
So what does that mean for Trump? It means impeachment could end exactly like it did last time, with a mark on his record by the House of Representatives, but with him staying in office. The Senate could just not hold a trial — even though the constitution presupposes they have a duty to do it, no one can force them to, Chafetz said.
Though he said the opposite is true, too: If they really wanted to, they could hold a trial very quickly. It doesn’t have to take weeks. A trial would halt any other business the Senate needed to do for a couple of days (though the Senate is currently out until Biden’s inauguration).
It’s also in the Senate where a critical vote happens for Trump’s future: whether to prevent him from holding office again. If they don’t hold a trial and vote on his conviction, they won’t hold that vote. (Though it only takes a majority to vote to ban him from office again.)
5. He could be impeached (and convicted, and barred from office) after he’s no longer president
Chafetz said this is possible, but raises questions. Legal scholars are divided about whether it’s doable.
When Biden is sworn in, Democrats will have a narrow majority in the Senate, thanks only to Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. They could decide to hold a trial then, but would they want to, given all the other work Biden and congressional Democrats want to do? They need to get their Cabinet approved and in place, and this could slow things on their agenda, such as addressing the pandemic and possibly passing another stimulus package.
Even after they take the majority, Democrats would need 16 Republicans to convict and bar Trump from running for office again. Could they realistically get that many? Why hold a trial if he’s only going to get acquitted, and he’s no longer in office?
“Let’s be rational about this,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) on Friday. “Why go through the exercise again if it’s going to be futile?”