Smart talking points: What happens next with President Trump’s impeachment?

By Arianne Cohen

January 15, 2021

So President Trump was impeached again this week—and his presidential term closes in mere days. Understanding what comes next requires a bit of sleuthing through procedural documents. We’ve got ya’ covered, read on.

What’s happened so far?

This week the Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach President Trump for inciting insurrection. This required a majority vote, and it wasn’t just Democrats voting yes. Ten Republicans joined them, making this the most bipartisan impeachment in history.

How can someone even be impeached twice?

When you hear the word “impeached,” just think “indicted.” With a U.S. president, it just means that the House voted for him to face a Senate trial, which will determine whether he is guilty as charged. If convicted, Trump faces two consequences: Removal from office (moot after Inauguration Day) and a ban from holding future office.

If his term is over, why is Congress bothering to impeach?

Lets be honest: rage. Trump’s incitement of violence on January 6 was a direct attack on . . . Congress. If someone encouraged a mob attack on you, would you let that slide? No. Since Vice President Mike Pence chose not to invoke the 25th Amendment as a mechanism to remove Trump from office, this is Congress’s most practical way to kick back.

So if convicted, Trump can never be president again?

The Senate would need to convict him with a two-thirds majority vote, and follow that with a 50% majority vote to prevent him from holding future office. This is attractive to the many Republican senators who want to run for president themselves in 2024, and don’t want to face Trump. According to the New York Times, it is also attractive to none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is said to want Trump the hell out of the Republican party. (In a letter to his party this week, McConnell clarified that he has “not made a final decision” on how he will vote, and will do so at the trial.)

What happens next?

The question is when the Senate’s impeachment trial will happen: McConnell chose not to reconvene the Senate this week to start the trial, meaning it will start on January 19 at the earliest.

Why’d he do that?

Truth: The impeachment trial is a splitting headache for McConnell, who is 78 years old. Trump is a member of his party, and his party is staunchly divided on the impeachment. Plus, he would be the public face of the damn thing, in the sunset days of his role as Senate majority leader. Thanks to the Democratic victories in Georgia’s Senate runoff races, Democrats will soon control the Senate, and Democrat Chuck Schumer will become the majority leader. At that point, the trial largely becomes Schumer’s problem.

Will the Senate vote to convict?

It could happen. A two-thirds vote is needed, which would require votes of all Democrats plus 17 Republicans. So far, a dozen Republican senators seem to be on board. Anything could happen though.

So we’ll be watching an impeachment trial for a president who is no longer president?

Correct. And Trump’s legal team will likely push back on whether its even legal to hold a trial for a president who is no longer in office. Stay tuned.