Not surprisingly, I received some feedback related to last week’s column about President Donald Trump and the storm on the Capitol, and not all of it was favorable.
I want to make clear that today I am not expressing an opinion. I am, however, going to attempt to teach a brief civics lesson.
As a student of the U.S. Constitution (a “Constitution nerd” if you will), I become somewhat obsessed when Congress acts in an extraordinary manner as it did last week with its second impeachment of President Trump (the first time a U.S. president has been impeached twice). I become fascinated with the process, reading everything I can get my hands on about the ins and outs of how it will work.
If you read last week’s piece, you know where I stand on the politics, for which I make no apology or defense. But if only for today, let’s put that aside and simply consider the logistics of what is about to happen. (And as a bonus, we’ll talk about the upcoming inauguration. You’re welcome).
As we learned only a year ago when President Trump was impeached the first time, the House of Representatives has “sole power of impeachment” under the Constitution. Last week, as the result of the riots on Jan. 6, the House introduced a single Article of Impeachment against Trump for allegedly inciting the violence that took place.
One of the many interesting aspects of this is that the impeachment trial, which will take place in the Senate, whose members act as jurors, will occur after Trump leaves office.
So why, you might ask, would the Democrats who instigated this action (remember, no opinion from me here — this is factual) want to expend the time and resources necessary to conduct an impeachment trial when the person being accused will have left office? He’s going to be gone, for crying out loud.
Further to that point, you might say, wouldn’t it be better for all concerned not only to let Trump go away quietly (or as quietly as he would), but to let Biden start his presidency without this hanging over him? He’s going to take office mid-day Wednesday with a whole host of new cabinet appointees to be confirmed — yet with a Senate that is going to immediately be otherwise occupied.
Biden, who has for the most part been mum regarding impeachment, might have concerns himself. He has offhandedly suggested perhaps the Senate can consider impeachment matters in the morning and conduct confirmation hearings in the afternoon. (To which Senate Dems seem to have implicitly responded, “We’ve got this, Joe.")
I had these questions myself, wondering what impact an impeachment trial, if it ends with a conviction, would have on what will be a former president.
As it turns out, plenty. Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution, which lays out the powers of the Senate in conducting an impeachment trial, provides that “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
To be sure, it’s the disqualification language that is the motivation here. Because President Trump has made clear his intentions of running in 2024 and becoming the first president since Grover Cleveland to serve non-consecutive terms, his accusers want to be sure that doesn’t happen. Although removal will be unnecessary since this president will have already left office, disqualification is an entirely different matter.
It had occurred to me, when it was looking as if he was losing his base of support (which now seems debatable), Trump might resign rather than face another impeachment. Even had he done so, however, there is nothing in this section of the Constitution that indicates he could still avoid impeachment and disqualification from holding future office if convicted.
History would affirm this. Remember, impeachment is not only for a president, but also a vice-president and other civil officers of the United States. My cursory research indicates, with Trump’s second impeachment, there have now been 21 impeachments of U.S. officials, with at least three of those having been both removed from office and disqualified from holding future office. The disqualifications obviously took place after the person was no longer in office.
This is heady stuff and I have a feeling most of you reading this have nowhere near the interest in it I do, so I’ll stop here. There is plenty more to consider, such as future benefits Trump might lose if convicted, but you can do your own digging if you would like to further explore this topic. (And send an email if you find something you think I might be interested in).
Will the Senate have the votes to convict Trump? Even with a now-Democratic majority, it will take at least 17 GOP defectors to get to the two-thirds vote required. Ten Republican House members voted to impeach, so there are some in the party willing to cross over. We can only wait and see, but it seems an uphill battle.
As for the inauguration of one Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. (did you know that was his full name?), given recent events, the pandemic and the fact his predecessor will not be present for the ceremony, it will be unlike other inaugurations we remember.
We won’t see Joe and Jill meet Donald and Melania on the White House porch for photo-ops before they ride to the ceremony together. The crowd will be down considerably from past years, and security will be over the top. I understand there will be some type of military escort for the new president and first lady following the swearing-in, but not the traditional parade.
But in keeping with history, around 11 a.m. central time, Joe Biden will take the oath of office (the only requirement under the Constitution regarding the inauguration) and in a matter of moments, there will be a new chief executive and the transfer of power will have taken place.
Just that quickly, a new chapter, whatever that might look like, will begin.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].