What does impeachment mean for Trump?

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Gino Spocchia
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<p>US president Donald Trump</p> (AP)

US president Donald Trump

(AP)

The House of Representatives this week voted overwhelmingly to impeach the outgoing president, Donald Trump, who was said to have incited the “insurrection” on the country’s Capitol last week.

The vote was not only bipartisan, with House Democratic backed by ten Republican colleagues, but the second time Mr Trump has been impeached by the House.

He will now be tried by the Senate, where the Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly privately admitted that he was pleased Mr Trump would be impeached again.

The spectacle could still take weeks to conclude, with proceedings set to begin as Mr Trump steps-down as president and departs Washington DC, and as the Senate works to convict - or acquit - the one-term commander in chief.

What does impeachment mean?

The process is sometimes confused with the removal of a US president, which is only one outcome of impeachment. Rather, the two-part process asks whether or not they should be removed, after the lower chamber of Congress votes on the matter.

Mr Trump has already been impeached twice by the House, once in February 2020 and for a second time on Wednesday.

House members voted on one single article of impeachment, which alleged Mr Trump’s “incitement of insurrection” at last week’s rally against the election results, which turned into a riot at the Capitol.

Although the House took many weeks to report on the possibility he committed impeachable offences the first time, Democrats who brought impeachment articles forward this week argued that the president’s words to his supporters - to march on the Capitol with “strength” - were plain and clear.

The next step will see the Senate put Mr Trump on trial, where House members will act as prosecutors, witnesses will be called, and senators will vote on any punishment - which can include the removal of a sitting president.

What happens next?

The second impeachment trial in as many years, will start soon after the upper chamber of Congress returns to session on 19 January, according to Senate majority leader Mr McConnell.

Mitch McConnell, senate majority leaderAP
Mitch McConnell, senate majority leaderAP

To start sooner, all 100 senators would need to vote on speedier proceedings, but they are not expected to do so.

Under the United States’ Constitution, the Senate must vote by two thirds to remove an official from office, which will require 17 Republican senators to support the conviction.

Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial took three weeks, and was followed by the Senate voting against his removal from office, having been impeached by the House for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, who went on to win against Mr Trump in 2020’s presidential election.

Mr Biden, the president-elect, will be sworn-in as Mr Trump’s successor the day after the Senate returns, thereby removing all possibility the Republican president is prematurely ousted from office.

The Senate is also due to start voting to confirm Mr Biden’s cabinet secretary picks, which could slow-down the impeachment trial.

Could Mr Trump be barred from holding office again?

Crucially, senators could still hold a separate vote to ban Mr Trump - who has been rumoured to planning to run again for president in 2024 - from taking office in the future, as part of the impeachment process.

A simple majority of all 100 senators would need to do so.

US Capitol buildingREUTERS
US Capitol buildingREUTERS

And Democrats have a strong opportunity to punish the outgoing president in this way, with the Senate set to come under the party’s control - thanks to two senatorial runoff election victories in Georgia last week, putting both sides on 50 senators each.

The incoming vice president, Kamala Harris, will hold the deciding vote in the upper chamber.

Still, there is some uncertainty as to whether or not the Senate will be able to vote to ban Mr Trump from future office, without first voting by two thirds to convict him when the trial concludes.

There is also the possibility that Mr Trump launches a legal challenge to any ban on holding future office.

Are there any other potential consequences?

Under the 1958 Former Presidents Act, those who have departed the White House are entitled to a number of perks, which are thought to include $1 million (£732,585) in annual travel expenses, and a pension though to be almost about $200,000 (£146,503) a year.

Mr Trump would be disqualified from receiving those perks if he is convicted by the Senate, which could hurt him financially, amid reports he was $400 million (£293 million) in debt, and faces two investigations by New York prosecutors into his businesses activities.

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