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Donald Trump impeachment: What would it mean?


US Democrats want Trump to leave office and never return. Shortly before his term as president ends, they are pushing for a second impeachment that would ensure he can never make a comeback.

“The symbolism is ‘look, we want to make clear that nobody is above the law,’” explains Sheri Berman, a political scientist at Barnard College, which is affiliated to Columbia University in New York. “The president incited sedition, incited violence and so it’s important for democracy with the rule of law to hold him accountable.”

In an interview with DW, Berman went on to point out the significance of 14th Amendment, which Democrats are also citing in their efforts to impeach Trump.

Also Read | Explained: Does Trump face legal jeopardy for his incendiary speech before the riot?

“Should he be convicted in the Senate, the idea would be to bar him from holding office again,” explained Berman. A president of the United States may serve two terms. But the terms do not need to be consecutive, which means Trump could seek re-election in 2024.

Storming the Capitol

The images of the Capitol siege last Wednesday left many Americans badly shaken. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC on the day Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s election victory.

Five people died, including a police officer.

Armed with guns, explosives and cable ties, the marchers had come from a rally where Trump had given an incendiary speech, urging his supports to reject what he called a stolen election.

“You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump told the crowd. “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.” Trump then told the crowd to march to the Capitol to give Republican representatives “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

‘Imminent threat’ to democracy

Democrats in Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are now using these statements as an opening to initiate a second impeachment trial against the US president. The only way to stop this bid, says Pelosi, is if Vice President Mike Pence successfully invokes the 25th Amendment, which declares Trump unfit for office.

“In protecting our Constitution and our democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi wrote Sunday in a letter to Democratic members of Congress.

The impeachment resolution Democrats unveiled Monday accuses Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” The four-page document cites the 14th Amendment, which states that anyone who has engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States shall never again be permitted to hold any public office.

The House of Representatives could vote on impeachment as early as Wednesday.

Impeachment, Part II

In December 2019, the Democratic House members voted with their majority to impeach Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors over a phone call with Ukraine’s leader. Trump was accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to find damaging information on his political rival, Joe Biden, in a bid to secure reelection, and threatening to withhold military aid for Ukraine.

Though impeached in the House of Representatives, Trump was cleared of two charges in the Senate, the chamber that requires two-thirds majority to convict.

A sitting president can only be removed from office if they are convicted by the Senate.

Looking ahead

Democrats will again lack the two-thirds majority in the Senate in a potential impeachment process against Trump. If enough Republican senators vote to censure Trump, the Senate could subsequently vote on whether to ban Trump from any future nominations.

“Months from now, Republicans might be less beholden to Trump, less concerned about alienating his base and therefore in theory perhaps more willing to go through with it perhaps,” political scientist Berman speculates. But, she adds, it could go the other way. “People could be like ‘Look, this was horrible, this was terrible, but we want to move on.’”

What is certain is that a potential Senate trial would not be completed before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. It would be several months before a potential Senate vote, Berman says. After all, the new president will have other priorities, such as getting his nominations for Cabinet posts confirmed by the Senate.

Legal experts differ on whether the US Constitution allows impeachment proceedings after a president is no longer in office. Says Berman, “It’s very unclear, to me, exactly what will happen with this.”

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