Capitol Riot

Trump Faces a Trial in the Senate: Here's How It Will Work

Democrats first urged Vice President Mike Pence to act to remove the president from office, but Pence declined

Democrats, and some Republicans, voted to impeach President Donald Trump for an unprecedented second time on Wednesday, determined to hold him accountable for inciting a violent insurrection at the Capitol that ended with the death of a Capitol police officer.

After Vice President Mike Pence declined a request to remove Trump through the 25th Amendment, the House of Representatives impeached Trump on one article, just days before he is set to leave office. The vote was 232 to 197.

Now the attempt to remove him from office moves to the Senate for a trial.

Here’s what you need to know.

What happened in the House?

The one article of impeachment passed with support from Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

As debate began, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "We know, we experienced, the insurrection that violated the sanctity of the people's Capitol and attempted to overturn the duly recorded will of the American people. And we know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addresses the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate on the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

On the Republican side, Jim Jordan of Ohio, said Democrats had been trying to impeach Trump since he assumed the presidency, even as he was about to leave office.

"This doesn't unite the country," he said. "There's no way this helps the nation deal with the tragic and terrible events of last week that we all condemn. The Republicans have been consistent. We've condemned all the violence all the time. We condemned it last summer, we condemned it last week. We should be focused on bringing the nation together. Instead Democrats are going to impeach the president for a second time one week, one week, before he leaves office."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, spoke out during the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, accusing Democrats of abusing “cancel culture” to remove the president.

Ten Republicans voted with Democrats to impeach Trump. The highest ranking was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, third in the House Republican leadership. Nine other GOP lawmakers joined her: John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Fred Upton and Peter Meijer of Michigan, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Dan Newhouse of Washington, and Rep. David Valadao of California.

Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., said Wednesday that she supports impeaching President Donald Trump. “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision,” said Herrera Beutler. "I am not choosing a side. I’m choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”

The accusation now moves to the Senate, where the chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, again will preside.

What is impeachment?

The Constitution allows for a president to be removed from office for reasons of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. It does not define high crimes or misdemeanors but the phrase is from British common law, and referred to crimes by public officials against the government. Trump is the first president to be impeached twice. Three presidents have been impeached once — Trump, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson — but none has been convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid being impeached. 

In a statement on Friday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called on President Donald Trump to resign. “But if he does not, I have instructed the Rules Committee to be prepared to move forward with Congressman Jamie Raskin’s 25th Amendment legislation and a motion for impeachment.”

What does the article of impeachment charge?

On Monday, Democrats introduced the article of impeachment that charged the president with “inciting violence against the government of the United States.”

A mob ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday and some could be heard on a video chanting “hang Mike Pence,” after Trump spoke to a crowd of several thousand and urged them to march to the building, where Congress was certifying his election loss.

"We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness," Trump said. "You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."

Trump did not march with the crowd that headed to the Capitol.

He has remained defiant and unapologetic in public comments since the riot, insisting that what he said at the rally was "totally acceptable."

During an appearance in Texas Tuesday, he called the impeachment effort a "hoax."

Hours before protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol, President Donald Trump addressed a crowd and encouraged the group to “walk down” to the building to “cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women.”

When could the Senate trial begin?

That is not clear.

After the House vote on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement quashing any hopes Democrats might have had for a quick start to a trial. The Senate process will begin at its first regular meeting after it receives the article from the House, McConnell said. The Senate is in recess until Jan. 19.

“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," McConnell said. "The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively.

No final decision could be reached until after Trump had left office, McConnell said.

Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer had floated the idea of using power given to Senate leaders after the Sep. 11, 2001, terrorist attack to reconvene the Senate immediately after receiving the article of impeachment, The Washington Post reported. McConnell rejected the proposal.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Democrat from Maryland, told NBC News that he would send the article of impeachment to the Senate immediately once it passed.

He did not say what he meant by immediately.

There had been some debate among Democratic leadership, led by Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, over whether to hold the article until after President-elect Joe Biden's first 100 days in office. Democrats were concerned a trial would interfere with his agenda.

Hoyer said that a delay was no longer under discussion.

Some legal experts have told NBC News that the Senate could proceed with a trial even after Trump leaves office.

What have Senate Republicans said?

McConnell told colleagues in a note on Wednesday that he remained undecided on whether he would vote on conviction of the president. 

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote to his colleagues.

McConnell broke with Trump over the electoral challenge to the election results, warning of “death spiral” for democracy.

Among other prominent Senate Republicans, Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have called on Trump to resign.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told the Salt Lake Tribune in a statement, “When the president incites an attack against Congress, there must be a meaningful consequence."

“We will be considering those options and the best course for our nation in the days ahead," he said.

Only Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska has said that he would consider articles of impeachment, saying he believed the president had disregarded his oath of office. 

The Senate needs a two-thirds margin to convict or 67 votes. 

In December 2019, Trump was impeached over his dealings with Ukraine, charged with abuse of power and obstructing Congress in an unsuccessful attempt to help his own re-election. The vote was largely along party lines.

Two months later, in February 2020, he was acquitted by the Senate. All of the Democrats voted guilty on both charges. Only one Republican, Romney, broke ranks to vote Trump guilty of abuse of power.

“The United States and the U.S. Congress have faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Wednesday. “We’ve never been deterred before, and we will not be deterred today.”

When does the make-up of the Senate change?

Control of the Senate passes to Democrats with the election of the two Democratic senators in Georgia. They will be sworn in after each of Georgia’s counties and its secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, finalize the vote counts, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

By law, Raffensperger has until Jan. 22, or 17 days after the election. Once Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are seated, Democrats will have control by the slimmest of margins.

The Senate is split 50-50 with ties to be broken by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris so Democrats would need significant Republican support to convict Trump.

Would Trump be able to run for office again if convicted?

If Trump were convicted, the Senate could then vote on barring him from holding federal office. That would require a simple majority vote.

Could the president face any other repercussions?

Separately from the attempt to remove him from office, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. told The Washington Post that federal agents and prosecutors would not rule out bringing criminal charges against Trump and others for inciting the riot at the Capitol with statements made at the rally just before.

“We are looking at all actors here, and anyone that had a role, if the evidence fits the element of a crime, they’re going to be charged,” acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said.

The District of Columbia’s attorney general, Karl Racine, is also considering whether to charge Trump, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican.

What happened to invoking the 25th Amendment?

The 25th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1965 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and ratified in 1967. It specifies that the vice president shall become president if the president dies, resigns or is removed from office.

Section 4, which Congress called on Pence to invoke, turns over the powers and duties of the presidency to the vice president if he and a majority of the Cabinet find that the president is unable to discharge them. It has a provision for the president to challenge the declaration and for Congress to settle a dispute. 

In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Monday night, Pence said he would not use the option, although he condemned the Capitol riot.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, economic hardship for millions of Americans and the tragic events of January 6th now is the time for us to come together, now is the time for us to heal,” Pence wrote.

“I urge you and every member of Congress to avoid actions that would further divide and inflame the passions of the moment.”

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