On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, members of the US House of Representatives voted (232-197) to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time in four years. The single article of impeachment charged the US leader with "incitement of insurrection" against the United States government on January 6, 2021. Here is how we got to this unprecedented moment and what to expect next.
The storming of the US Capitol
At about 1:00 pm EST on January 6, 2021, US lawmakers gathered for a joint session in the House of Representatives chamber to count the 2020 electoral college votes. The event, which culminates with the Vice President declaring the election's official winner, entails states submitting sealed certificates with the number of electoral votes obtained by each presidential candidate. In the past, the largely ceremonial procedure has been completed in less than an hour. However, that was not the case this year.
Shortly after the lawmakers began the proceedings, thousands of President Trump's supporters — fresh from his "Save America" rally held at Washington DC's Ellipse park — gathered outside the US Capitol Building. Chanting “whose house? our house!" the protestors overwhelmed the police and breached the barricades around the Capitol's outer perimeter.
Inside the building, the lawmakers remained blissfully unaware of the mayhem. However, that changed after some of the rioters snuck inside the Capitol Building by breaking a door and window on the northwest side. While the legislators were quickly whisked away to secure rooms, the protestors continued to wreak havoc, looting and vandalizing the offices of several Congress members, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The unprecedented assault on the Capitol Building, witnessed on live television worldwide, continued until about 4:00 pm EST and ended only after 1,100 troops from the District of Columbia National Guard arrived to assist the overwhelmed local law enforcement. In addition to several injuries, five people— including Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick — died in the violent protests.
What happens next?
The House impeachment vote is just the first step toward removing a sitting president from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) now has to present the "article of impeachment" to the Senate. This will instigate a trial in which House "impeachment managers" will present their case against the president to members of the Senate. If two-thirds of the senators vote in favor, President Trump would be asked to resign and hand over the US presidency to Vice President Michael Pence.
When will the Senate trial begin?
The earliest a trial can start is January 19, 2021, when the next regular Senate session begins. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could call an emergency session, the lawmaker believes there is not enough time left for a fair hearing to be completed before President-elect Joe Biden's administration takes over on January 20, 2021. He, therefore, believes no further action should be taken until that happens.
“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” Mr. McConnell said in the statement. “The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively. Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until President Trump left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The President-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency.”
Why impeach a president who is no longer in office?
Given that the most significant penalty for a guilty verdict in an impeachment trial is removal from office, impeaching a president whose term is over may seem like a wasted endeavor. However, Democrats believe that given the severity of the charge against President Trump, forgoing a Senate trial would set a dangerous precedent of immunity for future US leaders. If President Trump is found guilty, the Senate could also potentially vote to bar him from holding office in the future and eliminate his pension and other post-presidential perks.
What has happened to past presidents in similar situations?
The US Senate has yet to impeach a president. While President Andrew Jackson narrowly missed impeachment after the Senate votes fell one short of the two-thirds needed to convict, the votes against President Bill Clinton did not get close to the required majority. President Richard Nixon, who faced an impeachment inquiry in 1974, resigned from office before the Senate had a chance to vote.
Resources: CNN.com, Vox.com, NPR.com, Wikipedia.org