A extraordinary violation from the United States Capitol by rioters urged on by President Donald Trump led lawmakers into uncharted territory as they prepared for impeachment within days of Trump’s tenure.
Democrats in the United States House of Representatives said they would present an article of impeachment against Trump as early as Monday, accusing him of engaging “in high crimes and misdemeanors by willfully inciting violence against him. government of the United States ”.
In his repeated attempts to undermine the election and his directive to supporters to march on the seat of the US legislature on January 6 as Congress met to certify the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, Trump “betrayed his confidence as as president, ”lawmakers argue.
The move has the potential to shape the early days of Biden’s presidency, as well as the American political landscape for years to come – as Trump may be barred from taking federal office again in the future, experts have said.
“The fact that this could be the consequence could be a fatal blow to Trump,” Alan Baron, former House of Representatives special advocate, told Al Jazeera in four impeachment inquiries against federal judges.
– Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 10, 2021
For Trump to be impeached, the article must pass a majority vote in the House before it can be sent to the Senate for trial. The measure then requires two-thirds support in the Senate for the president to be convicted and removed from office.
Then, explained Baron, a subsequent vote in the Senate, “historically implying only a simple majority”, could then prevent the deposed president from returning to public office.
On Sunday, the impeachment article against Trump had 200 co-sponsors in the 435-seat chamber, where Democrats hold a slim majority.
With the party also set to take majority control of the Senate soon, impeachment could be a “practical” step to prevent Trump from running for president again in 2024 – or a “symbolic” reprimand for his actions, said Baron.
“There was talk of Trump’s role as a kind of government in exile, in terms of rallying Republicans when he’s not in office,” he said. “If he is prohibited from holding federal office, he is a kind of toothless tiger.
However, a Senate trial is unlikely to take place before Trump leaves office on January 20.
Even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cooperated in a trial before Biden took office – which he said he would not – observers said he was practically logistically impossible to complete such a complex trial in a short period of time.
Meanwhile, Democratic Representative James Clyburn suggested on Sunday the House could wait to send the impeachment article to the Senate until 100 days after Biden’s presidency begins, so as not to spoil his debut in office. .
This means that lawmakers’ hopes of preventing Trump from serving in future will hinge on a constitutional question of whether a Senate impeachment trial can take place after a president has already left the White House.
“The constitutional text is not clear on this point,” Thomas M Keck, professor of political science at Syracuse University, told Al Jazeera, adding that “most constitutional scholars who study the impeachment agree that the trial and sentencing can take place after he leaves office. “
“This is a questionable interpretation of the meaning of the Constitution,” he added, “but my understanding is that as long as the process is started while someone is still in office, it can continue. to a conclusion, even if that person leaves. Office. “
Philip Bobbitt, a Columbia University constitutional scholar, told Al Jazeera that if he thought lawmakers had grounds for impeachment, “in my opinion … you can’t impeach someone who isn’t. not in function. “
Bobbitt said based on his interpretation, a Senate trial should be completed by Jan.20, which he called “unrealistic.”
If a trial were to take place after Trump left, Bobbitt said: “I think it would be an appropriate defense for the party of the former president to say that he is no longer an officer of the United States.
Even if the trial is allowed to continue after Trump leaves, Democrats will likely face an uphill battle to convince the 16 Republican senators needed to achieve a two-thirds majority in the chamber to vote to impeach.
In recent days, at least two Republican senators, Pat Toomey and Lisa Murkowski, have called for Trump to resign.
Other Republican lawmakers have said they support invoking the 25th Amendment, a constitutional provision that allows Trump’s cabinet and the vice president to remove him from office if they deem him incapable of performing his duties.
Vice President Mike Pence has said he’s opposed to invoking the 25th Amendment, an adviser recently said, while some Republican lawmakers have urged Biden to stop Democrats’ efforts to impeach him, saying it risks make it difficult to unify the country after the violence at the Capitol. .
Nonetheless, opinions could change as more evidence emerges from the riot, particularly if the Trump administration’s directives have contributed to a delayed response from federal security officers.
The impeachment by the House would also send a message to future American leaders, Keck said.
“Even if banning Trump from future office fails, then you’ve marked him as the only president in history to be impeached twice,” Keck said.
“It must be a question for the historical records to say that inciting a crowd to attack Congress and try to prevent them from certifying the results of an election is unacceptable behavior.”