After Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, House Democrats have made impeaching the president a renewed priority, even as the clock ticks down on the last days of his term. So far, House lawmakers’ efforts to levy impeachment proceedings are contingent on whether Vice President Mike Pence and Trump administration officials agree to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and remove Trump from office. If Pence agrees to operate under the framework of the 25th, then impeachment proceedings wouldn’t be necessary. (Under this arrangement, the powers of the presidency would be temporarily transferred to Pence, with Trump determined “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office, and thus required to vacate the Oval Office).
On Monday, the 25th Amendment effort was blocked by House Republicans, forcing Democrats to bring the issue to the House floor for a full vote on Tuesday. If the vote passes the House tomorrow—it’s expected to, given Democrats’ control of the chamber—it, at the very least, ignites the process, heightening the possibility of Pence and administration staffers formalizing Trump’s dismissal. (Using the 25th Amendment to remove a president can be a thorny process, so check out CNN’s explainer for further reading on the matter).
But Democrats’ approach is twofold: One article of impeachment introduced on Monday already has 200 co-sponsors, levied against the president for his “incitement of insurrection” leading to Wednesday’s chaos at the U.S. Capitol. If impeachment passes the House in lieu of the 25th Amendment, it will mark the first time in U.S. history that a president was impeached twice by either chamber of Congress, let alone during a single term. This impeachment vote will commence on Wednesday.
However, with Trump’s days in power dwindling, there are several questions pervading the impeachment process: Namely, what are the repercussions he could still face if impeached, since he’s destined to become a private citizen on January 20? The consensus on the topic, it turns out, is far from uniform.
First, an impeachment refresher
You might feel like a seasoned Constitutional scholar at this point, given our founding document’s consistent place in the spotlight in recent months. But nonetheless, let’s gloss over the general process of impeachment to better understand the litigious journey ahead.
Impeaching a U.S. president involves a lot more than a single trial or vote. As we’ve written before, it’s a long process that involves the following steps: a decision by the House on articles of impeachment, a debate over those articles by the House Judiciary Committee, a vote by the House for impeachment which must involve at least one approved article, a determination by the Senate on trial proceedings, a trial by Senate, and then a verdict by the Senate.
In the current case against Trump, it’s likely that there wouldn’t be a House Judiciary Committee debate. Typically, hearings overseen by the Judiciary Committee require the summoning of witnesses to answer questions from lawmakers. That process would be bypassed in this case, owing to the extreme circumstances spurring the impeachment proceedings.
As NBC’s Pete Williams writes:
It would take a simple majority vote for the House to impeach. Any articles of impeachment would then go to the Senate, where they could be referred to committee or be fast-tracked to the Senate floor.
If the House votes in favor of impeachment on Wednesday—you have every reason to believe it will—the issue will then go to the Senate, where it will require a two-thirds majority vote in favor of conviction to formally remove the president from office.
But with Trump on his way out the door, can the Senate still preside over impeachment proceedings? In a short answer, yes, though it’s more complicated than that.