(CNN Español) — President Donald Trump was indicted again – he is the first leader in American history to be impeached twice by the House. The question now is whether he will be the first president to be convicted by the Senate and removed from office.
An impeachment is a two-part process. The House files and approves impeachment charges, but the Senate is where the accused faces trial and possible punishment.
What does the Constitution say about the role of the Senate?
Not much. The passage of the text is quite simple. Here it is:
The Senate shall have exclusive power to judge all charges. When they sit for that purpose, they must be under oath or affirmation. When the president of the United States is tried, the president of the Supreme Court will preside: And no person will be sentenced without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present. (Article 1, Section 3)
There are rules?
Yes. The Senate has a set of rules first created around the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and then updated in 1986. You can read them here.
Senators are sworn in before the procedure. There is a call to list every day. The Chief Justice has specific duties. There are time limits set for arguments and rebuttals and all questions from senators to the House and Trump attorneys must be submitted in writing and read by the Chief Justice.
When will this trial start?
That is not entirely clear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had indicated ahead of the vote that he will not bring senators back until the last day of Trump’s term, Jan. 19, at the earliest. It said in a statement Wednesday night that the testing process will begin then.
Can the trial be done in one day?
It is almost certainly not. This will take a few days or even weeks for the group of House legislators who will present the case against Trump and his lawyers to respond. Therefore, a trial cannot practically occur until after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
So will Trump be out of office before the Senate trial ends?
Yes. Senators will vote on the removal of a former president.
What’s the point of impeaching a former president?
There is a precedent for the impeachment of former officials. Read about it –which is called a “late impeachment”– here. While the main penalty for a guilty verdict in impeachment is removal from office, senators could vote to ban Trump from holding office in the future; remember, Trump hasn’t ruled out running for president in 2024. You could also lose your large pension and other post-presidential benefits.
But Biden will be president. Isn’t the Senate busy with other things?
If much. They will be busy with confirmation hearings for those chosen at biden cabinet; at least four are already scheduled for the week of January 20, for the selected secretary of state, Antony Blinken; Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin; Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen and Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas. Senators could be asked to draft legislation related to pandemic or economic relief: Biden wants to increase relief checks for $ 2,000.
So impeachment won’t be the only thing on his agenda. And they likely only spend part of each day in Trump’s trial. They could also, according to the rules, appoint a special commission to evaluate the case, but this seems unlikely.
One thing to note: While Mitch McConnell sets the schedule as Senate Majority Leader now, he will lose that status as soon as the results of the Jan.5 Senate run-off elections in Georgia and the two new ones are certified. Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff y Raphael Warnock, are in their seats. At that point, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer will become the Senate Majority Leader and will have more control over the proceedings.
The first impeachment trial against Trump was unsuccessful. What is different now?
In a word, the Republicans. In Trump’s first impeachment trial, only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to remove him from office. This time, McConnell, rather than protecting Trump, is said to be happy with the effort as a way to remove Trump or purge him from the Republican Party. Will that lead to more votes to punish Trump? It’s not clear.
How many votes does it take to convict Trump?
Big question! The conviction requires 2/3 of those present. If all 100 senators are present, there are 67 senators who must vote to convict him. Assuming those two from Georgia are in office, that means there are 50 senators from each party and it would take 17 Republicans to convict him.
However! Pay close attention to the rules, which require 2/3 of those present. If those two Georgia Democrats are not yet seated in their seats, 66 senators could be needed. If some Republicans did not want to vote against Trump but also did not want to vote to convict him, they could skip the vote and change the proportion of senators present. That sort of thing is known to happen, though not during impeachment proceedings.
What is the historical precedent?
There have been three previous presidential impeachments, including the first of Trump. President Andrew Johnson He was indicted but survived the Senate trial by one vote after seven Republicans broke ranks with his party. Johnson did not win the election after his impeachment. President Bill Clinton was indicted in his second term and easily acquitted; fewer than most senators supported his removal, far from the required 2/3. It was a similar result for Trump’s first impeachment trial, when only Romney joined the Democrats and fewer than most senators supported his conviction and removal.