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What's impeachment and what's necessary to convict Trump?

Should Congress move to impeach Donald Trump following last Wednesday's events at the Capitol, he will become the first-ever president to face impeachment twice.

What's impeachment and what's necessary to convict Trump?
MANDEL NGAN SAUL LOEB AFP

Trump impeachment live updates: incitement of insurrection, charges, Senate, today. 

After President Donald Trump was widely blamed for inciting a mob of protesters that violently stormed the Capitol last Wednesday, Congress could move to impeach him with just days remaining in his term.

If it does so, Trump will become the first president in US history to face impeachment twice, after the president was acquitted of charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in his first impeachment trial back in February.

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to impeach and remove "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States" upon a determination that such officers have engaged in treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Only three presidents have faced impeachment trials over the history of the United States: Andrew Johnson in 1968 (violating the Tenure of Office Act), Bill Clinton in 1998 (perjury and obstruction of justice), and Donald Trump in 2019. However, no president has ever been found guilty in an impeachment trial.

Now Trump could face impeachment for a second time just over a year after his first impeachment trial, with Democrats this time accusing the president of having instigated the attack on the US Capitol last week which resulted in five people losing their lives, including one police officer.

"As the days go by, the horror of the ongoing assault on our democracy perpetrated by this President is intensified and so is the immediate need for action," House leader Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday.

Democrats have been the ones pushing the case for this second impeachment trial, but there are some Republican lawmakers who have indicated that they would be open to supporting the two-part process.

The process to impeach Trump

The first part of the process involves the House of Representatives voting on whether to impeach the president. According to Section 4 of Article 2 of the US Constitution, to impeach, a total of 216 votes are required from the House of Representatives, i.e. a simple majority plus one.

With a Democratic majority in the House currently, the lower house will be expected to approve the initiation of proceedings to impeach Trump should it go to a vote at the House on Monday, as is expected if Vice President Mike Pence refuses to invoke Article 25 of the constitution to remove Trump. The Article 25 route is the quickest and easiest way for Democrats to get Trump removed and means no impeachment trials would be required. However, Pence is reportedly opposed to the idea, meaning he will likely reject Pelosi’s calls to move ahead with invoking Article 25, under which the president’s vice president and cabinet can move to have Trump removed.

If the House votes in favor of impeachment, as it will with almost all certainty will, the article of impeachment is then passed to the Senate, which must hold a trial.

However, the majority required to convict is much higher as two-thirds of the senators would have to vote in favor of such a move. That means that if all 100 senators were seated at the time of trial, at least 17 Republican senators would have to join their Democratic colleagues in voting in favor of a conviction, which many commentators say is unlikely but perhaps not impossible given the seriousness of the charges against Trump this time.

“If a foreign head of state came in and ordered an attack on the United States Congress would we say that should not be prosecuted... there should be absolutely no response to that,” stated Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in an interview on ABC.

What happens if Trump impeached

If the president is impeached, he would be immediately be removed from office, which may seem pointless to many considering he has just days left before president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January.

However, one real consequence of impeachment is that Trump may be banned from holding office ever again, which would put a halt to his plans to run in the 2024 presidential race. According to the Constitution, following a conviction, the Senate can consider “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” In this case, only a simple majority would have to agree to successfully disqualify Trump for ever holding public office again.