Former President Trump has the dubious honor of being the only president to be impeached twice, and is also the first to face a trial after leaving office, so the Senate will enter into uncharted constitutional waters when the impeachment trial begins next month.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday evening that the impeachment trial for Mr. Trump would begin on February 8. The House impeachment managers will deliver the single article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, January 25. Senators will be sworn in as members of the impeachment court the following day, on Tuesday, January 26.
Both the impeachment managers and Mr. Trump’s attorneys will each have time to deliver legal briefs stating their cases, before the trial formally begins two weeks after the article was first delivered to the Senate. The extra time allows for both sides to prepare their presentations, and lets senators continue to confirm President Biden’s cabinet nominees before all regular Senate business halts while a trial is conducted.
Even though senators participated in an impeachment trial for Mr. Trump barely a year ago — the president was acquitted on February 5, 2020 — the upcoming trial is shaping up to be very different from the first.
The House impeached Mr. Trump the first time on December 18, 2019, after several weeks of hearings. The two articles of impeachment charged him with “Abuse of Power” and “Obstruction of Congress.” The vote to impeach was divided almost entirely along partisan lines, with only one independent voting to impeach Mr. Trump, and three Democrats voting against impeachment on at least one article.
The impeachment proceedings in the House this year were a far faster and more bipartisan affair. Mr. Trump was impeached a second time one week after he urged supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the election ahead of Congress’ scheduled counting of the Electoral College results January 6. Following his speech at the rally, a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people. Congress didn’t return to count the Electoral College votes for six hours, and several Republican lawmakers still voted to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
The resolution to impeach Mr. Trump was brought to the House floor on January 11, with the House forgoing the traditional process of holding hearings and conducting an investigation into any wrongdoing. There was only one article of impeachment this time, charging Mr. Trump with “Incitement of Insurrection.” Ten Republicans joined all 222 Democrats in voting to impeach Mr. Trump, bringing the vote to 232 to 197.
After Mr. Trump was impeached in 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not announce the impeachment managers until January 15, 2020, nearly a month later. This year, Pelosi announced the impeachment managers on the same day as the vote to impeach Mr. Trump, January 13, 2021.
In 2020, senators were sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as members of the impeachment court on January 16, and the trial began on Tuesday, January 21. Mr. Trump was acquitted almost exactly two weeks later, on February 5. Senator Mitt Romney, voted to convict the president one charge, “Abuse of Power,” the only Republican to vote to impeach Mr. Trump on either charge.
This year’s trial is expected to be very different. Some Republicans have argued that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president who is no longer in office, but the Constitution does not specify whether a president needs to be in office to be impeached.
It is also unclear how long the second trial will last, or what evidence either side would choose to bring. Pelosi argued on Thursday that this impeachment trial would differ from Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial, which was triggered by a call he made to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019 urging Ukraine to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden. Mr. Trump defended his call to Zelensky as “perfect.”
“This year, the whole world bore witness to the President’s incitement, to the execution of his call to action, and the violence that was used,” Pelosi said. “I do see a big difference between something that we all witnessed versus what information you might need to substantiate an Article of Impeachment based on, large part, on a call that the President made and described as ‘perfect.'”
Mr. Trump’s legal team has yet to be officially announced, but one of his lawyers will be South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers, who has experience representing politicians embroiled in scandals.
Although the chief justice of the Supreme Court traditionally presides over an impeachment trial in accordance with the constitution, Roberts may not want to participate in a second impeachment trial against Mr. Trump. In that case, Vice President Kamala Harris would preside over the trial as president of the Senate, or, if she opts against doing so, Senate president pro tempore Patrick Leahy would preside.
A two-thirds majority of the Senate, 67 votes, is required to convict the president. Democrats hold 50 seats in the Senate, and it is unlikely they could garner support from 17 Republicans to convict Mr. Trump, particularly since he is no longer in office. However, more Republicans may vote to convict Mr. Trump than in 2020, as he has been harshly criticized by some GOP senators for encouraging violence among his supporters on January 6.
If Mr. Trump were convicted by the Senate, Congress would then vote on whether to bar him from seeking elected office again. Only a simple majority is needed to bar him from holding office.
Many Republicans argue that holding a trial after Mr. Trump has left office is divisive, but Democrats counter that it is necessary to hold an impeachment trial for Mr. Trump in order to show that a president must be accountable for his actions even in his last month of his term in office.