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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, setting the stage for a trial that could see former President Donald Trump convicted and potentially barred from running for office in the future.
The House voted to impeach Trump for the second time earlier this month for “incitement of insurrection” after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s election win. That vote broke largely on party lines, with only 10 of the 211 Republicans in the chamber joining Democrats in supporting impeachment.
The upcoming Senate trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 9, will follow the same procedures as the one held in early 2020, when senators considered whether to remove Trump from office for pressuring the president of Ukraine for politically advantageous information on Biden. The final tally fell well short of the 67 votes needed to convict. Only one Republican — Mitt Romney of Utah — joined Democrats in supporting Trump’s removal.
This time the issue of removal is moot, since Trump has already exited office. But if 67 senators vote to convict, that could set up a second vote to bar him from holding public office in the future.
Why there’s debate
Conventional wisdom in Washington is that Trump's second impeachment trial will end much the same way as his first. Assuming all 50 Democrats vote in favor of conviction, they’ll need 17 Republicans to join them for the vote to be successful. A few prominent GOP senators have rebuked Trump for his role in inciting the riot, but only about five Republicans can realistically be considered as possible “yes” votes, many pundits say. Trump is still enormously popular among the Republican base. Any GOP senators eyeing reelection or a possible 2024 presidential bid would be dooming their own political careers by moving against him, they argue.
Others see reason to believe that this time around could be different. For one, the attack on the Capitol could be considered a much more direct assault on U.S. democracy than Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. The political calculus may have also changed significantly now that Trump is no longer president. Some Republicans could see impeachment as an opportunity to jettison Trump, who they may consider a political liability after a series of disappointing elections. GOP senators with eyes on the White House may also relish the chance to bar him from competing for the party’s nomination in 2024.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen by many as the key to the trial’s outcome. If he decides to convict, he will likely bring a large share of his caucus with him, they say. While he soundly criticized the first impeachment from the beginning, McConnell has said publicly that he is still undecided on how he will vote this time. Media reports suggest he has been privately lobbying colleagues to convict. As someone who has always put political power at the center of his decision making, McConnell may believe that it’s in the long-term interest of the Republican Party to make a decisive split from Trump.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that he expects the upcoming trial to be completed “relatively quickly” and that no decision has been made on whether to call witnesses. Many in his party have expressed an eagerness to finish with impeachment swiftly so they can focus on passing their legislative agenda.
There is no political incentive for Republicans to turn on Trump
“Don’t bet on McConnell, or more than a couple of Republicans, coming through in the end. It’s a tricky political question for them, but the weight of their incentives will push them toward acquittal, no matter their personal feelings about Trump and what he has done to their party.” — Paul Waldman, Washington Post
The delay between the Capitol attack and the trial killed any chance of conviction
“The initial sense of urgency to hold Trump accountable and senators’ clarity about what they experienced that day both diminish as time passes and partisans spin the facts to try to cast Trump and his allies in a better light.” — Haley Byrd Wilt and Andrew Egger, Dispatch
Any realistic count of potential votes shows there’s little chance of conviction
“A handful of Republican senators have already criticized Trump and signaled that they would be open to support conviction. But to secure a conviction, more votes would be needed, and supporters would be likely to look to senators who are retiring or other longtime members who are viewed as institutionalists. That's likely to be difficult.” — Sahil Kapur and Kasie Hunt, NBC News
Republicans’ decisions will have little to do with Trump’s actual actions
“If Republicans decide, as most of them will, maybe nearly all, to vote against this, it’s going to have nothing to do with their opinion about the behavior of Donald Trump. It will have everything to do with their narrow political calculation about balancing whatever allegiance they may feel to the constitution with concerns about being attacked from the Trumpist right.” — Law professor Frank O. Bowman III to the Guardian
A split over impeachment would leave the GOP fractured and vulnerable
“With Joe Biden taking office and testing Republican unity early and often, you have to assume McConnell isn’t going to divide his troops or lead them into a massive intraparty fight. … So if the pro-conviction band remains limited to five or eight or ten Republican senators, don’t count on Mitch to flip the board.” — Ed Kilgore, New York
Impeachment will make Trump look more sympathetic to many Republicans
“It seems likely that impeachment is going to create a political backlash among Republicans that empowers the Trump forces. The backlash is already brewing and will presumably gain force as the debate begins to focus on disqualifying Trump from future office — which is going to strike ordinary Republicans as vindictive and undemocratic, no matter how deserved.” — Rich Lowry, National Review
GOP presidential hopefuls may jump at the chance to knock Trump out of the running
“At least a half-dozen Republican senators hope to run for president themselves in 2024, potentially conferring a certain convenience on having Trump offstage.” — Tom McCarthy, Guardian
If McConnell decides to convict, other Republicans will follow
“If McConnell sends out strong signals for conviction others may follow, concluding that they are doing the Republican Party a favor by getting rid of Trump, thus enabling the party to turn the page on a contentious and chaotic era.” — Elaine Kamarck, Brookings Institution
Trump’s image is on the decline among Republicans
“Trump is a declining stock. Yes, there remains a decent-sized chunk of the Republican base that remains loyal to Trump. But as the President has made clear over these past few weeks — not to mention the last four years of his presidency -- he is absolutely and totally unpredictable and uncontrollable. He will say and do things (and has already said and done things) that neither McConnell nor any Republican with an eye on the medium- and long-term future of the party can possibly condone or be forced to answer for.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN
A conviction isn’t likely, but it’s possible
“While it remains unlikely to happen, it’s no longer unthinkable.” — Molly Olmstead, Slate
New damning information could come out that changes the calculus
“More information could come out that could 1. Convince Republicans even further that they need to cut ties and 2. Convince the broader American public and Republicans in particular that they do want to cut ties.” — Galen Druke, FiveThirtyEight
McConnell may see impeachment as a chance to steer the GOP away from Trumpism
“The point wouldn’t be to punish Trump or alter the majority leader’s public reputation or create a moment for the history books. It would be to use a power that Senate Republicans have now, and will presumably never have again — the power to guarantee that Trump cannot be a candidate for president four years from now, which can be accomplished by a simple majority vote following a Senate conviction.” — Ross Douthat, New York Times
It’s in Republicans’ political interest to convict Trump
“Far be it from me to offer political advice to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but he's out of his mind if he doesn't whip the 17 Republican votes needed for conviction and then vote himself for the inevitable resolution banning the former president from ever holding political office again. Right now, the former president has the power to monkey-wrench Republican politics from hell to breakfast.” — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
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