Despite a second impeachment, President Donald Trump could still seek and hold federal office in the future, including president in 2024.
On Wednesday, the Democrat-led House of Representatives approved a single article of impeachment, accusing the president of inciting the violence that led to the Jan. 6 death of one Capitol Hill police officer and a protester. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies during a violent riot that saw Trump-supporting protesters storm the Capitol and cause Congress to evacuate.
But Trump is set to leave office Jan. 20 with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. While Democrats argued that Trump is a threat to democracy, their main goal in this latest impeachment effort could be to ensure Trump never again seeks or holds elected office.
That’s a tall order, because for that to happen, the Senate must convict Trump in an impeachment trial after he leaves office, which has never happened before. Also, no sitting or ex-president has ever been convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, which requires a two-thirds majority.
If the Senate convicts Trump — presumably during a trial later this year — it could then, by simple majority, vote to disqualify him from serving in a future federal office. Article 1 of the Constitution says impeachment judgments can include “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
If that happens, Trump could lose some of his benefits under the Former Presidents Act of 1958. Those include a lifetime pension, an annual travel budget and funding for an office and staff. He would still be entitled to Secret Service protection, but Congress could amend the law to make sure Trump loses those benefits.
Trump was impeached by the House in late 2019 and acquitted by the Senate in February 2020 on two impeachment charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The GOP-led Senate acquitted Trump on both charges.
But this latest Trump impeachment is different. The Senate is not scheduled to be back in session until Jan. 19, and while current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly furious with the president, it’s unclear how a Senate impeachment trial would play out. The New York Times reported McConnell thinks Trump committed an impeachable offense and is glad Democrats are moving against him.
Citing unidentified people familiar with McConnell’s thinking, the Times reported McConnell believes moving against Trump will help the GOP forge a future independent of the divisive, chaotic president.
When Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20 as president, former California Sen. Kamala Harris will become vice president. With the Senate in a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats, Harris will serve as the Senate’s tiebreaker, meaning Trump’s trial will take place in a Senate far different than the one he faced in 2020.