Last week’s deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump was deemed “unprecedented” at the time by Missouri Southern State University’s William Delehanty.
Fast forward seven days, and the political science professor is now calling Trump’s second impeachment in as many years “uncharted territory.” Nothing like these two linked actions have ever taken place in the nation’s past.
“Historically speaking, a president has been impeached (previously) — but not twice,” Delehanty said Wednesday. It’s “crazy — let’s just put it that way.”
The impeachment resolution that charged Trump with a single article of “incitement of insurrection” in his role in last week’s Capitol attack passed by a 232-197 vote. Of those votes in favor of impeachment, 10 were cast by Republicans.
While Democrats have strongly pushed for impeachment in the wake of the siege that left five dead, many Republicans are saying efforts to convict Trump and oust him are futile, considering President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20.
Delehanty said he understands why Wednesday’s action was deemed so necessary by most of those voting. He described last week’s violence in Washington as “catastrophic” and that “as far as Trump is concerned, there has to be accountability. People need to know that rules matter, and when those rules are violated … in (numerous) ways, there are consequences for doing them.”
Trump joined Democrats Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton last January as the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House. The Senate has never convicted a president of impeachment charges.
It's doubtful the Senate will take up impeachment proceedings immediately. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring back the Senate early for a trial; the Senate is set to convene Jan. 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
But once Vice President Kamala Harris is sworn in next week, making her the president of the Senate, and Georgia’s two new Democratic senators are also sworn in, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will take charge and determine how a trial would proceed.
How impeachment works
In the two-part process surrounding impeachment proceedings, the House first has to pass articles of impeachment, Delehanty said. That part took place Wednesday.
The second phase, the trial, happens in the Senate. Senators essentially become jurors, and the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice oversees the proceedings. Conviction in the trial phase requires a two-thirds vote of senators — a higher threshold than what is set for the House vote.
A guilty verdict is supposed to be followed by a president's removal from office. But in this case, Trump will already be out of office by the time any trial is over because Biden will assume the presidency next week. The impeachment process also doesn't preclude a president from facing potential criminal prosecution afterward.
"It's the unique politics of the Senate that really plays a significant role in whether or not a (House-impeached) president would be convicted and subsequently removed after that conviction," Delehanty said.
Despite the two impeachments on Trump's presidential record, Delehanty said, nothing that happened Wednesday would prevent Trump from seeking the White House again, perhaps as soon as 2024.
“No, impeachment doesn’t prevent Trump from running in a later election,” he said. “What’s interesting is even if a president is impeached, convicted by the Senate and removed from office, that doesn’t prevent them from rerunning.”
Technically, he said, the Senate could vote at a later date to convict him of impeachment charges and then meet to pass a new ruling that would make Trump ineligible to run as a candidate in a future presidential election.
“Yeah, that could certainly happen, though the politics of conviction is one thing, but I’m not entirely sure of the politics surrounding something like” a future ban from office, he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a Senate address this type of thinking simply because an (impeached president) has never been convicted and removed.”
In the case of federal judges who were impeached and removed from office, the Senate has taken a second vote after conviction to determine whether to bar the person from ever holding federal office again. Only a majority of senators would be needed to ban Trump from future office, unlike the two-thirds needed to convict.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.