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Thursday, March 4, 2021

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Where Donald Trump’s second impeachment goes from here


Renee Josse De Lisle/The Cougar

Renee Josse De Lisle/The Cougar

House Democrats on Monday delivered the article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate, setting up a historic high-stake proceeding against the former president that’s scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8.

But with newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden still trying to solidify his agenda by getting his political appointments confirmed in the Senate, Trump’s second trial will look different compared to past impeachments.

“The Senate will split time between a trial and regular business, so it might take longer to finish than expected,” said UH  political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “Most investigations and trials are lengthy affairs but this one, partly because of the uniqueness of the charges, will move more quickly.”

Despite allegations against the former president, proponents of the impeachment are facing a big challenge. An overwhelming majority of Republican senators on Tuesday voted against holding a trial in an effort that was dismissed in a 55-45 vote. 

Just five Republicans joined Democrats in voting down the measure to dismiss the trial.

With Democrats needing at least 17 GOP senators to convict Trump, the vote signaled a likely acquittal of the former president in the upcoming trial.

“Conviction in the Senate will be a challenge for a partisan hardened chamber, despite the severity of the charges,” Rottinghaus said. “Getting Republicans to flip to vote to convict is a tall order.”

Trump’s second trial has drawn comparisons to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868, in which Johnson was acquitted by the Senate.

“The Trump impeachment will be similar to Johnson’s impeachment because it was about an institutional threat that angered Congress,” Rottinghaus said. “The Clinton impeachment was about personal character and wrongdoing more than about interbranch friction.”

The case of Trump is different due to a particularly circumstantial context. He is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and also the first to have his Senate trial begin after his term has ended.

Being convicted by the Senate, therefore barred from running for public office, could be one of the greatest losses for Trump, Rottinghaus said, but he may use his political influence in the future.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Trump is threatening to form a right-wing third party to challenge Republicans who didn’t side with him in impeachment proceedings.

“President Trump will likely return to his private business, but might also parlay his political celebrity to new political platforms or news organizations,” Rottinghaus said. “Many presidents take on national or global challenges, but it is not immediately clear if President Trump would do this.”

Congress moved swiftly to impeach Trump on “incitement of insurrection” after the Capitol assault on Jan. 6. This cements Congress’ constitutional authority to impeach a president when necessary.

“Impeachment will send a message to future presidents that their words matter and that the Congress will react if threatened,” Rottinghaus said.

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