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How many Senate votes are needed to impeach Trump?

President Donald Trump was impeached for the second time in 12 months after the Capitol disturbances, but Democrats still face the same Senate-shaped obstacle.

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How many Senate votes are needed to impeach Trump?
MANDEL NGAN AFP

On Wednesday 13 January, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. This came after House Democrats had filed a resolution on Monday accusing the White House incumbent of “incitement of insurrection” after the Republican president urged supporters to march on the US Capitol during a 6 January address in a continued bid to overturn the results of the November presidential elections, which installed Joe Biden as president-elect.

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Trump impeached for second time in 12 months

The subsequent events on Capitol Hill, immediately after the speech, when hundreds of pro-Trump protestors stormed the seats of US lawmaking - the House of Representatives and the Senate - resulting in the deaths of five people have caused outrage worldwide and heaped more pressure on Trump to bring to an early end one of the most divisive four-year terms in US history.

The president eventually bowed to demands to guarantee a peaceful transition after months of unfounded claims of electoral fraud and a string of failed lawsuits aimed at forcing recounts in key states. Trump was already on thin ice after a recording of a conversation he held with Georgia’s secretary of state instructing that sufficient votes be “found” to reverse Biden’s win there was made public.

Now, with Biden days from taking office, Trump has seen 10 Republicans vote for his impeachment - along with all Democrats - with the final count coming out at 232-197. This now passes to the Senate.

How many House votes are needed to impeach Trump?

In the lower chamber, controlled by the Democrats, a simple majority is required to pass the resolution. Democrats currently hold 222 seats to the Republicans’ 211, with two vacant. Even without cross-party support, Democrats will have no issue clearing the first hurdle to impeachment proceedings.

As in Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, accusing the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the eventual outcome will be decided by the Senate. Until 20 January, Republicans hold the same narrow advantage they enjoyed a year ago with 52 seats to the Democrats’ 48. After the Democratic victory in the Georgia run-off, there will be an even split of 50-50 in the Senate, with Vice-President elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

Two-thirds of Senate needed to remove Trump from office

However, for Trump to be removed from office it will be necessary to garner support from two-thirds of the Senate. During his last trial, Trump was acquitted on both Articles by the Republican-controlled upper chamber with only one Republican, Mitt Romney, breaking party ranks to vote against his president on the charge of abuse of power. While some Republicans are reportedly considering breaking rank against the outgoing president in the House vote, it will take a monumental disregard of GOP line-toeing in the Senate to see Trump removed from office. That said, Republican Senators Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have called on Trump to resign, giving Democrats a glimmer of hope.

There is also the timeline to consider: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has intimated a Senate vote won’t be green-lighted until 19 January, a day before Trump hands over power. The matter is unlikely to end in that eventuality though, with the Constitution providing the means for a vote on Trump holding future office if he is impeached. Unlike a vote to remove a sitting president, a simple majority is required in the upper chamber on the matter of future office.

With Democrats nominally in control of the Senate after 20 January, and with the possibility of at least one Republican backer emerging, a motion to prevent Trump from running for the presidency again in 2024 cannot be ruled out.

Trump makes unwanted history

As the vote count was confirmed, Trump became the first president in history to be impeached twice. The only two presidents to have been impeached previosuly are Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.