With the US House of Representatives set to vote on removing US President Donald Trump from office later on Wednesday, how does impeachment work and will it even happen?
Why Are They Impeaching Trump?
Congress Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of inciting the occupation of the US Capitol building in Washington DC last Wednesday, briefly disrupting the confirmation of Democratic candidate Joe Biden as president-elect. Protester Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot while trying to enter the evacuated House chamber and police officer Brian Sicknick died in hospital after scuffling with protesters outside.
Trump's supporters in Congress can point to his repeated urging of several hundred protesters who broke away from the main 200,000-strong Stop the Steal rally outside the White House to remain peaceful, cooperate with police and go home. But that has already fallen on deaf ears.
With Trump leaving the White House at noon on January 20 in any case, the effect of impeachment could ultimately be to stop him getting benefits awarded to other ex-presidents and — crucially — ban him from holding any future position of “honour, trust or profit under the United States,” ruling out a 2024 comeback presidential bid.
How Does Impeachment Work?
A simple majority in the House of Representatives is all that initially needed for impeachment, as the previous attempt in 2019 and 2020 showed. But that act is only a charge against the president, and it takes a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate to actually convict the president and remove him from office.
Despite the legalistic terminology and calls by many Democrats for the president to be prosecuted, impeachment will not land Trump in jail but only remove him from office. But the Senate could pass a second motrion, requiring only a simple majority, that would invoke the 14th Amendment that bars individuals from holding office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion".
Can The Democrats Win the Vote?
Biden's party has a majority in the House and is fully determined to go ahead with impeaching Trump. Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has said he will not whip his colleagues into voting against it.
The Democrats and Republicans both hold 50 seats in the Senate, with the casting vote wielded by current Vice-President Mike Pence. Pence has already ruled out removing Trump by invoking section four of the 25th Amendment, saying such "political games" would "set terrible precedent". Biden's running-mate Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20, giving the Democrats an effective majority of one in the case of a tied vote.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell supports impeaching Trump, if only to stop the still-popular Trump from seeking his party's nomination for the next presidential election in 2024.
Could There be a Compromise?
Not likely! Republicans are ready to back a motion of censure against Trump over the Capitol occupation, but Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled that out.
Partisan political tensions remain at extreme levels. Biden has called the Capitol protesters "white supremacists", "anti-Semites" and "domestic terrorists", demanding authorities throw the book at them. And House Democrats have implied that Twitter followers of conservatives like Trump are "neo-Nazis".
Is There Even Time to Impeach Trump Before he Leaves Office?
With Senate in recess until January 19 — the day before Biden's inauguration — a vote to remove Trump is unlikely to come before then.
The first day of Senate's sitting would be largely taken up with swearing in the newly-elected senators, while the second would focus on setting the terms of the trial.
As in a criminal trial, Trump's lawyers would have the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses, a process almost certain to last will past his formal departure from the White House.
There are also suggestions in the media that the House would delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate until after Biden is in office and his cabinet appointments have been confirmed by the Senate, in order to avoid distracting attention from his first days in the White House.
So it is most likely the impeachment proceedings would likely continue for some time after Trump has left office, with the aim of barring him from future office.
The Senate leader's spokesman David Popp appeared to confirm in a tweet on Wednesday that the Senate would not be called back early to rush through an impeachment.
— Doug Andres (@DougAndres) January 13, 2021
If the Senate convicts Trump, he would become the first ever US president to suffer such a fate. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached in the House but never convicted in the Senate.