The US House of Representatives on Wednesday impeached President Donald Trump, making him the first president in American history to be impeached twice. Trump was charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the Congress during its certification meeting on the Electoral College votes at the Capitol Building which confirmed Joe Biden as President-elect. Whichever way you look at it, Donald Trump has made history, but on Wednesday’s impeachment does not remove him as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He remains as President until 12 noon next Wednesday, January 20 when Biden is inaugurated as President and Kamala Harris as Vice-President at a ceremony at the same Capitol Hill, the scene of last week Wednesday’s mayhem during which five persons, including two Capitol policemen died.
The article of impeachment stated that Mr. Trump “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were fraudulent and should not be accepted”. It said Trump then repeated these claims and “willfully made statements to the crowd that encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol”, leading to the violence and loss of life. The impeachment article further said that “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government, threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a co-equal branch of government.
” After debates yesterday by both Democrats and Republicans, the House voted to approve the single article of impeachment on a vote of 232 to 197, charging the president with “incitement of insurrection”. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Recall that Donald Trump was first impeached by Congress in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House of Representatives led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on December 18, 2019 voted mostly along party lines to impeach the president on both charges. The vote on Article One, ‘Abuse of Power’, was 230 for and 197 against. All Republicans voted against the article, joined by two Democrats. The vote on Article Two, ‘Obstruction of Congress’, was 229 for and 198 against the impeachment. All Republicans also voted against the article, joined by three Democrats.
That first impeachment did not result in his removal as President because the Senate, controlled then by his Republican Party, did not find him culpable. So of what effect is this second impeachment of Donald J. Trump? Some analysts say Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representatives just made Donald Trump become more popular by ‘upgrading’ him to become the first and only US President to be impeached twice, because the impeachment action cannot lead to Trump’s removal as President, with only one week to Biden’s inauguration. It is also feared that the impeachment may make Trump’s supporters all around the country protest or even become violent in their various states, where security has being beefed up, with an unprecedented National Guard presence to provide protection also during next Wednesday’s inauguration in Washington DC.
The current impeachment scenario is even more complicated than the 2019 version, as the Senate trial cannot start until after Joe Biden becomes President, because the Senate is not scheduled to hold a regular session until Jan. 19, a day to inauguration which Trump has said he would not attend. It has been explained that the Senate could still try Donald Trump even after he has left office, although there is no precedent for a president being tried after his term is over. Therefore, the indications are that when Biden becomes president, and Democrats have majority control of the Senate, Trump will then be tried, but such trial could also distract the Senate and Biden in his first days in office when he needs to have his nominees confirmed quickly and hit the ground running, with COVID-19 and the economy running wild on his agenda.
Joe Biden and his Cabinet Nominees Once the Senate receives the impeachment charge, it must immediately take up the issue, as articles of impeachment carry the highest privilege. Under rules in place for decades, impeachment is the only issue the Senate can consider while a trial is underway; it cannot simultaneously consider other legislative business. It is yet to be seen how this will pan out. Apart from Trump, only two American presidents have ever been impeached — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — and both were acquitted by the Senate and completed their terms. What then does this impeachment mean to Trump if he remains till the end of his full tenure? What does he stand to lose? When a US President leaves the White House, he is entitled to an annual pension of about $200,000, health care, paid official travel and an office for life. Plus, he will receive assistance for a presidential library. But an already wealthy former President like Donald Trump should not feel any hardship, with his real estate and businesses spread all over the world.
Other perks include the fact that even when he is retired, a former President is protected at all times, with the Secret Service always nearby and all retired Presidents receive this perk for life and their children are protected until the age of 16. At the end of it all, presidents and their immediate family members are honoured with a state funeral, like the ones reserved for Heads of State, which can last for up to 10 days, with full military honours, including a military escort, flyover and a 21-gun salute. All these perks are what Donald Trump can afford with his wealth, except the ones involving government agencies. However, the biggest punishment of a full impeachment trial and conviction for Trump would be that he could be disqualified him from holding office for life.
It seems the Democrats and some others do not want Trump re-appearing in four years time to contest for the office of the President of the United States, POTUS. And some Republicans are tagging along with the impeachment because they do not know any other way to get rid of someone who has come like a whirlwind to challenge the establishment like no other person has ever done. Conviction in an impeachment trial may not automatically disqualify Trump from future public office. But if the Senate were to convict him, the Constitution allows a subsequent vote to bar an official from holding “any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” The new Senate will have Democrats in the majority but that will not provide enough votes to convict Trump in an impeachment trial – 67 or two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict. Are there at least 17 Republicans to join the 50 Senators of the Democratic Party in this cause? Other legal minds think since there is no precedent for disqualifying a president from office in the future, it could become a matter for the Supreme Court. And Donald Trump has shown that he is not scared of taking any matter to the highest court in the land. More fireworks seem to be waiting for Americans and the whole world. But I dare say Donald Trump would feel his ban from social media more than anything else!
• Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.