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‘Impeachment’ 2.0? The arguments for and against the new Trump trial

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Following the assault on the Capitol building last week, the impeachment of the president seems the top priority for Democrats, but complications exist

Following the assault on the Capitol building last week, we wondered if Congress would act to hold Trump responsible for inciting the insurrection to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. Now we know the answer: House Democrats revealed on Monday an article of ‘impeachment’ against Trump.

But although the Lower House will vote in the next few days to start the process, Trump – the first US president to undergo two political trials – will have completed his term before the impeachment begins in the Senate. So why do it? Here are a few arguments for and against.

In favor: First, whatever happens in the Senate, impeachment in the House of Representatives would make it clear to future presidents that encouraging violence against the government has consequences. If Congress avoided cracking down on an extreme case like this, the limits of what is assumed to be acceptable political behavior could be dramatically expanded.

Second, the impeachment of Trump can lead to a vote to disqualify him from any federal elected office going forward. Although the ‘impeachment’ requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, only a simple majority is necessary to veto the president as a candidate in the 2024 presidential elections, thus robbing him of some power over the Republican Party. A permanent veto would receive open support from Democrats and perhaps some Republicans who fear that Trump could freeze the party’s primaries in 2024 if he hints at his possible candidacy.

Against. In the first place, unless Trump commits another highly provocative act, it is more than likely that the impeachment will fail again in the Senate and Trump will be acquitted. While more Republican senators could support sentencing the president this time than last, Democrats do not have the minimum 67 votes in the Upper House needed to remove him from office. For Trump’s supporters, a second acquittal would be a vindication of the president’s actions, would somewhat restore his position in the Republican Party and could even incite more violence.

Second, despite the severity of the events of the past week, the impeachment continues to be an extremely polarizing issue among Americans. A similar number of Republican voters oppose this second impeachment as those who rejected the first, in late 2019. The Republican Party can be expected to argue that Americans are tired of red versus blue and now is the time to ‘heal. ‘—An argument similar to the one Gerald Ford made when he pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974.

Third, impeachment is a very risky bet for the future Biden Administration at a time when, given its pyrrhic majority in the Lower House and Senate, it needs to deploy much of its political capital to pass crucial relief measures, such as new economic stimulus checks against the pandemic or the boost to vaccinations. In the United States, a country that reports more than 3,500 deaths and 200,000 new infections from Covid-19 every day, the public health crisis is a more urgent problem (and Biden may need a few Republican votes to overcome possible resistance from moderate Democrats present to one of their high-spending plans).

This may take a while. Although the process begins today, it will end when it suits the Democrats, as they can decide when to take the case to the Senate. James Clyburn, a senior Democrat in the Lower House, said Sunday that the impeachment article could take weeks to reach the Senate so that President-elect Joe Biden and the new Congress can focus on an ambitious legislative agenda during his first 100 days in office.

Be that as it may, the fate of impeachment 2.0 depends on Trump. His behavior in the coming days will determine whether Democrats can persuade a sufficient number of Republican senators to convict the president of “high crimes and offences.” If the president – who recently had his social media platforms taken down – keeps a low profile, the process could lose momentum. But if he tries to incite more violence from his supporters or test the limits of presidential power by forgiving himself, the political temperature in Washington could heat up even more.

* This article was originally published in English on GZERO Media.

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