The Donald Trump Impeachment Trial


House impeachment managers watching the trial unfold

UPDATE: On February 13th, Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate on the charge of incitement of insurrection.  Seven Republicans voted with the Democrats, but the final vote, 57-43, was short of the two-thirds vote needed to convict.

It’s not often that as a president leaves office the focus remains on him. Yet, with Donald Trump’s impeachment this standard is defied. Almost all Democrats and even some of the Republican party have become exhausted by the now former president over the last few months, and the January 6 riot was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Thus, comes President Trump’s second impeachment and what will be an untested task of the Senate, trying a president that is no longer there. The first question this raises is why that would even be done.

A senate vote to remove a president from office would take him out of Washington. However, Trump currently resides in Florida. If he were to have been impeached prior to the ending of his term, he would have lost some benefits post-presidency: secret service protection and an annual $200,000. In addition to this, according to the constitution, voting to remove a president also involves “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” In other words, Trump’s talk of possibly running for president in 2024 will no longer be an option if impeached and convicted. Despite these critical consequences, the main reason for removing President Trump is symbolic. It would set a precedent that his actions in office were unacceptable, and more specifically that inciting violence while president can not and will not be tolerated.

Of course, all this is assuming that President Trump will be found guilty. In order for that to happen, a supermajority of senators (67 of them) must vote to remove him. Yet in the end, the probability of that happening is not very high. With the swearing-in of newly elected senators John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Democrats will hold 50 senate seats. It is safe to assume every single one of them will vote to remove Trump, as is typical in situations like these. The big question is how many Republicans will join that side. There was only one Republican senator who voted to convict their president of the same party (thought just for one of the two articles of impeachment presented). That was Mitt Romney from Utah, and it is likely he will do the same again. Other Republicans will probably join him, in light of recent events. Although none of them have officially announced their commitment to convicting him, less than half of them have said they plan not to do so. Per the Washington Post, 13 of the Republicans said they are open to the idea of it (including leader Mitch McConnell) and 15 are yet to speak of it either way.

Facing the facts, having 17 Republicans join the Democrats and the two independents in favor of the removal process is unlikely. However, this is not exactly what necessarily needs to happen. When the vote is taken the supermajority is determined based on how many voters are present. For example, if four senators couldn’t make it to the vote, then a majority would be 49 votes instead of 51. Therefore, Republican senators don’t have to vote in favor of convicting President Trump to help with the removal effort. Instead, they could just stay home. This is a much better move for a senator who wants to hold onto support for their next election. It’s a way to work in favor of removal without actually having to vote for it.

The Senate is planning to run the impeachment trial the week of February 8. Democrats claim that their first priority is to help pass President Biden’s agenda, which makes sense considering the current state of the nation. The trial itself will run similar to how a typical criminal trial works, with prosecutors arguing for conviction and President Trump’s lawyers defending him. However, the details of the specific process and how long it will take are currently unknown.

If the vote is successful for the Democrats, it will become the first time a US president was ever forcibly “removed”, even if he technically already left. The closest to this happening was with President Andrew Johnson in 1868, where he was just one vote away from being taken out (though it is said a senator who essentially served as the tie-breaker was bribed). 

Like today, Johnson’s actions gradually drew resentment and ill feelings from the American people. He is remembered as acting very king-like in his actions, being headstrong and refusing to listen to others. Independently firing a cabinet member (this required congressional approval at the time) is what pushed Congress over the edge. Democrats today will probably argue something similar about President Trump during the trial. Though in the end, the question senators will likely be asking themselves is this: should Trump see justice for his actions or should we just move on?