Trump made history this year by becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But just what does this mean? And will Trump’s impeachment have any future implications on US politics? This brief guide aims to explain all.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is a process by which a public official (such as a politician or indeed the president) is accused of wrongdoing. A trial is then held to decide whether this person should be removed from office.
In the case of a US presidential impeachment, a vote is first cast in the House of Representatives. The members of the House of Representatives all vote as to whether the president should face an impeachment trial. If they vote in favour of impeachment, a trial is then held by the Senate involving the Chief Justice, in which a jury of senators go about the business of deciding whether the president should stay in office. It is not a criminal trial – the president cannot be jailed or fined if found guilty, simply removed from office.
Why was Trump impeached twice?
Trump has faced two impeachment trials during his presidency. The first trial was held between December 2019 and February 2020 lasting over a month. The second was held earlier this February in 2021 lasting only five days.
The first impeachment trial
The first impeachment trial took place because Trump was accused of essentially blackmailing Ukraine’s president in order to dig up damaging information on Biden.
During Biden’s role as Vice President, his son Hunter worked for a Ukrainian energy company. It is believed that Trump was trying to dig up damaging information on Biden’s son (and Biden), which he could then use against Biden in the 2020 election.
Trump was accused of blackmailing Ukraine’s president in order to obtain this information: he threatened to withhold $400 million of military aid to Ukraine (which had already been promised to them by Congress) and threatened to cancel a meeting with the Ukrainian president.
The House of Representatives responded by voting to impeach Trump. The house’s judiciary committee stated that Trump had: ‘betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic relations’.
The second impeachment trial
The second and most recent impeachment trial took place because Trump was accused of inciting a mob attack on the Capitol building.
On January 6th, crowds of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building. The crowds gained entry to the debating chambers and had to be controlled with armed police. 5 people died during the insurrection.
Trump was accused of inciting this mob attack in a rally beforehand in which he told crowds to ‘go to the capitol’ in protest over the result of the vote. The full transcript of the speech can be read here.
Following the mob attack, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump (232 -197).
What was the outcome of both impeachment trials?
In both trials, Trump was acquitted – allowing him to remain in office.
For a president to be convicted, two-third of the senate judiciary must vote in favour of conviction. In both cases, more than half the senators voted to convict Trump, but not over two thirds.
In the first impeachment trial, Trump was acquitted 52 – 48 on charges of ‘abuse of power’ and 53 – 47 on ‘obstruction of Congress’. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican senator to stand against his party and convict Trump.
In the second impeachment trial, Trump was acquitted 57 – 43 on charges of ‘inciting an insurrection on the Capitol building’. In this trial, Mitt Romney was not the only Republican senator to convict Trump – six others stood against him.
Trump acquitted and Biden in power: Does Trump’s impeachment have any further consequences?
Trump may not have been convicted in either impeachment trial. However, his double impeachment is likely to have an impact on the future of US politics.
Because Trump was acquitted in both cases, it leaves him free to run for president again in 2024. The likeliness of him getting re-elected however is slim. This is not only because of public feeling towards him but because the Constitution’s 14th Amendment disqualifies any candidates that has ‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion’. Ultimately, it will be up to the Supreme Court as to whether Trump can run for office again as they have the power to block him.
The damage to Trump’s brand caused by the impeachments is meanwhile likely to have serious negative impacts on his business empire. Trust for The Trump Organization and the way it is run has been hampered – it is unlikely many companies will want to work with the Trump brand. The second impeachment meanwhile resulted in Trump being de-platformed by social media companies. For the last decade, this has been a major marketing tool for him – both for communicating with his voters and consumers.
The impeachment trials have also caused a lot of division within the Republican party. This is particularly the case with the second trial in which seven Republican senators broke ranks. There are now two camps: Trump loyalists who will want to defend his legacy, and anti-Trump Republicans who will want to reform the party. It is unlikely the party will split, however, many Republican politicians will likely choose to retire or realign with another party depending on the direction that the party takes.
International relations have also been strained as a result of Trump’s impeachment trials – particularly the first impeachment trial. US and Ukraine relations have previously run deep, however, Trump’s blackmailing of the Ukrainian president has clearly damaged this. Biden will now have to work to improve relationships with Ukraine.
Biden will likely benefit from the impeachments. After the turbulent presidency of Trump, his presidency will likely seem like one of stability. His success at dealing with Covid-19 will ultimately determine how good a president he is perceived to be – and whether he or another Democratic candidate should run again in 2024. However, unless Biden also faces impeachment throughout his presidency (which is unlikely), he will likely leave a better legacy.