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What Impeachment in Trump’s Final Days as President Means for Him

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What Impeachment in Trump’s Final Days as President Means for Him

House Democrats Introduce Impeachment Article Against Trump

Donald Trump’s four-year term as president ends on Jan. 20 at noon. That’s not soon enough for some in Congress, who have initiated an unprecedented second effort to impeach him, one year after the U.S. Senate acquitted him of House charges in his first impeachment. This time around, forcing Trump to leave office might not be the most important goal.

1. What would be the point of impeachment, then?

Some members of Congress say Trump must be impeached to hold him accountable for his role encouraging his supporters who participated in the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. More tangibly, Trump has made noises about running for the presidency again in 2024, a prospect that alarms many Democrats and complicates the ambitions of other Republicans who envision themselves in the Oval Office. Should he be impeached (again) by the House, and convicted (this time) by the required two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, senators could also vote to disqualify him from serving in future federal office, which would take only a simple majority. (Article 1 of the Constitution says impeachment judgments can include “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”)

2. Has disqualification ever happened?

The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times, according to its historian’s office, and voted to impeach 20 individuals -- 15 federal judges, one senator, one cabinet secretary and three presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Trump in 2019). Of that group, eight judges were convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Three of the judges were also disqualified from holding office again. The last instance was in 2010, involving Thomas Porteous, a federal judge in New Orleans who was accused of taking cash and bribes from lawyers and bail bondsmen with cases before his court, making false statements in declaring personal bankruptcy, and lying to the Senate during his confirmation.

3. Is there enough time left to impeach Trump?

There’s enough time for the House to pass the proposed article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement of insurrection and forward it to the Senate for consideration. But there’s little to no chance that the Senate could or would complete the required trial by Jan. 20, when Trump leaves office and President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. Whether the Senate could legally vote to convict Trump, and disqualify him from holding office again, after Trump’s presidency has ended is an open question. No president has ever been convicted of impeachment charges, much less after leaving office.

4. What other repercussions would there be for Trump?

If impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, Trump could lose many of the benefits afforded to former presidents, which, under the Former Presidents Act of 1958, include a lifetime pension, an annual travel budget and funding for an office and staff. Under that law, such perks are withheld from any president removed through the impeachment process (though he would still be entitled to Secret Service protection.) Here, too, whether a post-presidency conviction constitutes “removal” might be a question for the courts to decide. But experts point out that Congress could try to amend the law to make sure Trump loses his benefits.

Protests As Joint Session Of Congress Confirms Presidential Election Result

Demonstrators mob a Police officer as they enter the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6.

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg

5. What exactly is an impeachable offense?

Congress decides that. The U.S. Constitution says the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” As Congress has defined it through the years, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” includes exceeding or abusing the powers of the presidency, or misusing the office for improper purpose or gain.

6. Does Congress have other options?

There’s been talk of deploying the 14th Amendment, enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War, to make Trump ineligible from running again. Section 3 of that amendment prohibits any government official who participated in or supported an insurrection against the U.S. from holding office in the future. Because a resolution citing the 14th Amendment wouldn’t seek to remove Trump from office, it may not require the same two-thirds Senate vote as an impeachment conviction, and it would sidestep a lengthy trial.

The Reference Shelf

  • A Congressional Research Service report on the benefits given to former presidents.
  • A Bloomberg news story on how Trump publicly celebrated his Senate impeachment acquittal less than a year ago.
  • Impeach Trump and disqualify him from office, writes Bloomberg Opinion columnist Ramesh Ponnuru.
  • A post-presidency impeachment trial in the Senate would be unconstitutional, former appellate judge J. Michael Luttig argues in the Washington Post.