Explainer: Trump is heading for second impeachment. Here's what to expect

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol stands as Democratic lawmakers draw up an article of impeachment in Washington

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday expects to vote on whether to begin a second impeachment of President Donald Trump, accusing him of inciting insurrection ahead of last week's storming of the Capitol, congressional Democrats said on Monday.

The following is a primer on what a second impeachment proceeding of Trump would look like.

How does impeachment work?

A misconception about impeachment is that it refers to the removal of a president from office. In fact, impeachment refers only to the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, bringing charges that a president engaged in a “high crime or misdemeanor."

If a simple majority of the House’s 435 members approves bringing charges, known as “articles of impeachment,” the process moves to the Senate, the upper chamber, which has a trial. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict and remove a president.

What “high crime and misdemeanor” is Trump accused of?

House Democrats plan to accuse Trump of inciting the "lawless action" that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the seat of Congress last week, forcing lawmakers who were certifying Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's election victory into hiding in a harrowing assault on a symbol of American democracy that left five dead.

What happens after the House vote expected on Wednesday?

If the House impeaches the president, the case heads to the Senate for a trial.

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, has said the earliest a trial could begin is Jan. 19 because the chamber is in recess until then. To start earlier, all 100 Senators would need to vote in favor of doing so, McConnell said in a Jan. 8 memo to colleagues obtained by the Washington Post.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is exploring using emergency authority to reconvene the Senate before, a senior Democratic aide said on Monday. Such a move would require McConnell's approval.

Impeachment experts said the Senate is free to set its own rules, and could hold a trial in a single day if it wanted to.

"One of the defining features of impeachment is that there is no due process requirement, no oversight from the court," said Corey Brettschneider, a political science professor at Brown University.

Why have an impeachment trial if Trump is already gone?

Impeachment can be used to remove Trump from office and to disqualify him from running again in the future.

Two historical precedents, both involving federal judges, make clear that only a simple majority of the Senate is needed to disqualify the president from holding office again. Legal experts said this means Democrats, who will take control of the Senate later in January, have a realistic chance of barring Trump from running for president in 2024. A source familiar with internal discussions said Trump was telling allies he planned to run for president in 2024 and could announce it by the end of the year.

Has a U.S. president ever been impeached twice?

No, but legal experts said it is clearly constitutional for Congress to do so.

Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine about political rival Joe Biden, now President-elect. Trump was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in February 2020.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)