Democrats are prepared to impeach President Trump once again for his role in inciting a violent mob of his supporters, which overwhelmed police Wednesday and burst into the Capitol Building where U.S. lawmakers were meeting inside.
But with President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration less than two weeks away, it begs questions about how long the process could take, what it would look like and if it would result in any significant action against the president.
Democrats say they are ready to initiate impeachment early next week if Vice President Pence does not invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president.
“Republicans in Congress need to … call on Trump to depart his office – immediately,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Thursday. “If the President does not leave office imminently and willingly, the Congress will proceed with our action.”
While it’s doubtful that the full process, including a Senate trial, will be complete by the date of Biden’s inauguration, Trump would be the first president to be impeached twice if the Democrats’ effort is successful.
House Democrats have talked about bringing the articles of impeachment directly to the floor, bypassing the House Judiciary Committee and other in-between steps, potentially speeding up the process by several weeks.
Speaker Pelosi said the move has her party’s support, meaning the House of Representatives could impeach the president as soon as the end of next week, depending on when Democrats start the process.
The timeline in the Senate — which decides whether to remove a president from office after impeachment —is less certain. In modern history, full proceedings have taken about two months.
“We’ve never been here before,” said Professor Susan Low Bloch, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University. “It would all be all unprecedented.”
When President Trump was impeached in 2019, Democrats first unveiled the articles on Dec. 10, but the Senate trial didn’t formally begin until Jan. 16, and the president was finally acquitted on Feb. 5. Former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment followed a similar timeline.
If the House does indeed approve the articles of impeachment next week, the Senate must hold a trial right away to decide whether to remove the president from office. But the chamber, which is still under Republican control, “enjoys broad discretion” over what the trial looks like.
Last year, after a few days of procedure, the trial rules alone received a full day of debate and a vote. Senate Majority Leader McConnell set aside four full days for arguments. The entire trial officially took 21 days.
It’s unlikely that the Senate will move quickly enough to reach a vote on whether to convict the President by Jan 20. But the process could put pressure on Republicans in the meantime.
“I think that’s the point of all this — to try and get the Senate to get him to step down before they make it literally illegal for him to run again,” Bloch said.
Barring an official from holding public office after impeachment has precedent dating back to 1862, when the Senate both convicted federal district judge West H. Humphreys and voted to disqualify him from future office.
In the past, the vote to block someone from future office has been separated from the vote on conviction. Democrats hope that will attract Senate Republicans’ support, especially those with presidential hopes.
Based on precedent, the Senate would only need a simple majority to block President Trump from future office — which amounts to the added support of one to three Republicans, depending on when Georgia’s newly-elected senators are sworn in — instead of the two-thirds vote required to remove someone from office.
Another important thing to note: President Trump could still face criminal charges for inciting violence Wednesday, whether he is removed from office or not.
“The Senate’s power to convict and remove individuals from office … does not overlap with criminal remedies for misconduct,” a government report on the topic reads.
It’s highly unlikely. The timeline alone makes it hard to imagine a full Senate trial taking place by the time Biden is set to take his oath of office.
In addition, there’s little chance that enough Republican senators would cross the aisle to vote in favor of the President’s removal. At least one, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said he would “consider” it.
"The House, if they come together and have a process, I will definitely consider whatever articles they might move,” Sasse told CBS This Morning.
Others have warned against impeachment altogether, saying it would backfire.
“If Speaker Pelosi pushes impeachment in the last days of the Trump presidency it will do more harm than good,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote on Twitter.
“Any attempt to impeach President Trump would not only be unsuccessful in the Senate but would be a dangerous precedent for the future of the presidency,” Graham added.
It’s unclear. The Constitution outlines the process for impeachment and removal from office, but it doesn’t require a specific timeline or mention whether the process should end when a president leaves.
“I don’t think anyone contemplated that when they were writing the Constitution,” Professor Bloch said. “I would hazard a guess that there would be no point in continuing after that.”
Once Biden is inaugurated, President Trump will become a private citizen. When former President Richard Nixon resigned in the summer of 1974, his impeachment did not continue, even though some articles had already passed the House
It’s quite possible that Congress could choose to end the process and move on after Biden takes the oath. Still, the president would not be immune to criminal charges related to his conduct while in office.