On Wednesday, exactly one week after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, Congress voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time. In a historic, bipartisan ruling, 232 Representatives voted in favor of impeachment. Up next, the Senate will conduct a trial to determine if Trump should be convicted — but the process won’t be as swift in the Senate as it was in the House.
Despite calls from Democrats to reconvene the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the trial will happen after President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. “Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” McConnell wrote in a statement. He added that, even if the Senate moved immediately, they still wouldn’t reach a verdict before Trump’s exit from office.
The delay is frustrating, especially for those of us still bitter over Amy Coney Barrett’s lightning-fast Supreme Court nomination. Democratic legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have pushed McConnell to declare an emergency session. “A Senate trial can begin immediately, with agreement from the current Senate Majority Leader to reconvene the Senate for an emergency session, or it will begin after January 19,” Schumer wrote. “But make no mistake, there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate; there will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors; and if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.”
Some believe that there's an upside to holding off on the trial. In order to convict Trump, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of impeachment. By the time the Senate reconvenes, there will likely be a Democratic majority: Georgia Senator-elects Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who both won special run-off elections last week, are expected to be sworn in on January 19.
On the other hand, the two additional votes may not make a dent in the 67 required to convict. And the longer it takes to hold the impeachment vote in the Senate, especially until after Trump is out of office, the more leeway is provided to Republicans who will try to abstain from voting at all, or change their vote for any reason.
When Trump was first impeached in 2019, the GOP refused to cross party lines to support his removal. The House Republicans all voted against impeachment, and Utah’s Mitt Romney was the only Republican Senator to support Trump’s conviction. Trump was ultimately acquitted, but this time, there’s a real chance he could be convicted and lose privileges, including a lifetime budget for travel and the ability to run for office in 2024. Romney has once again voiced his support for impeachment, and this time, several GOP Senators might join him.
“The House, if they come together and have a process, I will definitively consider whatever articles they might move because as I’ve told you, I believe the president has disregarded his oath of office,” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse told CBS This Morning. “He swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He acted against that. What he did was wicked.” Senators Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey have also expressed openness to the idea of impeachment.
The key here could be McConnell himself: according to the New York Times, he hasn’t ruled out the idea of voting in favor of conviction, and he is reportedly “pleased” that Trump’s second impeachment could make it easier to purge Trumpism from the Republican Party. Several GOP sources have if McConnell sides with the Democrats, many Republicans will likely join him. “If Mitch is a yes, he’s done,” one insider told CNN.
In and of itself, Wednesday’s news was big: Trump is the first U.S. President to be impeached twice, and on an equally satisfying note, he has officially been impeached more times than he has been elected. But a conviction from the Senate could be key to getting rid of him once and for all, and if a delay might help that happen, it could be worth it.