Dubai: With just days to go before the term of US President Donald Trump expires, Democrats in the US House of Representatives are rushing to impeach Trump. The move follows last week’s siege of the Capitol after Trump urged supporters to march there over claims that the November 3 election was ‘rigged’ against him.
Trump has already said that he will hand over power to Joe Biden on January 20, when the new president will be sworn in. Then why are Congressmen bent on impeaching the president? Will the trial go through even if he is out of office? And, do the Democrats really have the numbers to see the impeachment through?
Also, does the verdict have an impact on Trump’s future chances of standing for office?
Here’s a look at some scenarios and what we can expect over the coming days.
What do the Democrats want?
Democrats in the US Congress want to remove Trump from office either by pressuring Vice-President Mike Pence or by impeaching him.
When some Democrats were pushing for President Donald Trump's impeachment in early 2019, it took around five months for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to back the idea. This time, it only took a day.
The House will vote on Tuesday on a resolution calling on Pence, a Republican, to invoke within a day the 25th Amendment to strip the president of power.
What is the 25th amendment?
The 25th Amendment's Section 4 lays out what happens if the president becomes unable to discharge his duties but doesn't transfer power to the vice-president himself. The vice-president and majority of the Cabinet can declare the president unfit. They then would send a letter to the speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate saying so. The vice-president then becomes acting president.
The president can send his own letter saying he is fit to serve. But if the vice-president and majority of the Cabinet disagree, they can send another letter to Congress within four days. Congress would then have to vote. The president resumes his duties unless both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote say the president is not ready.
Why was it passed?
The push for an amendment on presidential succession plans in the event of a president's disability or death followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. President Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1965 State of the Union promised to 'propose laws to insure the necessary continuity of leadership should the President become disabled or die.' The amendment was passed by Congress that year and ratified in 1967.
Has the 25th Amendment been invoked before?
Yes, presidents have temporarily given up power, but those instances have been brief and voluntary.
In 2002, President George W. Bush became the first to use the amendment's Section 3 to temporarily transfer power to Vice-President Dick Cheney while Bush was anesthetised for a colonoscopy. Section 4 of the amendment, which allows the Cabinet to declare the president unfit, has never been invoked.
Will the 25th Amendment be invoked now?
Unlikely, as Pence advisers say he is opposed to the idea.
What happens next?
Democrats in the US House of Representatives plan to impeach Trump on Wednesday unless he steps down or is removed before that, after drawing up charges accusing him of inciting insurrection ahead of last week's siege of the Capitol.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told his fellow Democrats the chamber would take up impeachment on Wednesday if Pence does not invoke the US Constitution's 25th Amendment.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is a charge of misconduct brought against someone holding public office.
The term is commonly used to mean removing someone from office, but it actually refers only to the filing of formal charges. If the House impeaches, the Senate then holds a trial on those charges to decide whether the officer — a president or any other federal official — should be removed and barred from holding federal office in the future.
The US Constitution states that a president can be impeached and removed from office for a number of reasons, including "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the U.S. government.
How is this done?
Any member of the House of Representatives can introduce articles of impeachment and trigger a procedural process that allows them to be considered almost immediately. Approving them takes only the majority. Democrats narrowly control the House, 222-211.
The impeachment motion would likely pass the House, given its strong support among Democrats who control the chamber. That would make Trump the only US president to be impeached twice.
Have other US presidents been impeached?
Only three US presidents have been formally impeached by Congress —Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Only one other US president has faced formal impeachment inquiries in the House of Representatives: Richard Nixon.
So far, no US president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.
So, will Trump be removed from office after impeachment?
No. The trial will move to the Senate. That's what happened in 2019, when the House impeached Trump over his dealings with the president of Ukraine. It took three months. It fell through in the Senate, so Trump continued in office.
What happens in the Senate?
Impeachment is akin to an indictment - it leads to a trial in the US Senate.
A two-thirds vote would be needed to convict Trump of the impeachment charge and remove him from office.
That means all 50 Democrats and at least 17 of the chamber's 50 Republicans would have to vote to convict him. As of Sunday, only two Senate Republicans have publicly said that Trump should not serve out his term.
What about timing?
Timing is also an issue as Trump's term ends on January 20, when Biden is sworn in.
The Senate is required to consider impeachment charges as soon as they get them from the House, but it is not due to return until Jan. 19.
That means the Senate would be consumed with impeachment during Biden's first weeks in office, rather than voting on his Cabinet nominations and other policy priorities, such as responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House could avoid this scenario by simply waiting to send the impeachment charge to the Senate for 100 days, as Democratic Representative James Clyburn suggested on CNN on Sunday.
That would allow Congress to focus on Biden's agenda. By the time the Senate turned to the impeachment charge, Trump would be long out of the White House.
So why go through this long process if it is not likely to succeed?
In one word – precedent.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted on Friday that some people might ask why they would try to impeach a president with only a few days left in office. 'The answer: Precedent,' he said. 'It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the US government.'
Republicans, even those who have criticised Trump, say impeachment would be unhelpful. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, said it would do “more harm than good.''
But Democrats say they believe they have to try anyway.
If convicted, will Trump be barred from holding office again?
In theory, yes - if he were to be convicted in a Senate trial after being impeached by the House, or if he were to be convicted in court of inciting not just a riot but an "insurrection," meaning a violent uprising against the federal government.
The post-Civil War 14th Amendment to the Constitution bars from future office people who "engaged" in an insurrection or rebellion even if they previously took an oath to uphold the Constitution as a lawmaker or federal officer. However, by itself this principle lacks a mechanism for determining what counts or for enforcing it, Bloomberg reports.
But the article of impeachment that House Democrats unveiled on Monday cites that provision as context. Accusing Trump of "incitement of insurrection," lawmakers sought not only his removal from office but also his disqualification from holding any future federal office.
It appears unlikely that there will be any Senate trial or vote before Trump's term ends. Still, the prospect of barring him from future office would keep a post-presidency impeachment trial in the spotlight. In 1876, the Senate tried a former secretary of war, William Belknap, who had resigned just before the House impeached him.
Separately, the penalty for violating Section 2383 of Title 18 USC, which makes it a felony to incite an insurrection, is not only prison time but making the convict "incapable of holding any office under the United States."
Notably, this law separately covers the act of giving aid or comfort to people who have engaged in insurrection. In a video he posted on Twitter amid the violence, Trump offered the rioters reassurance rather than condemnation. He repeated his false claims about a stolen election that they invoked as their justification. While saying "we need peace" and urging them to go home, he added: "We love you; you're very special."