The chaotic term of office of US President Trump ends next week. The Democrats still want impeachment proceedings. At first glance, this may seem like pure symbolism – but it goes far beyond that.
Photo series with 30 pictures
Donald Trump did not want to go down in history for this: the Republican is already one of only three US presidents who have had to undergo impeachment proceedings. Now he is also threatened by an inglorious unique selling point: If the Democrats in Congress live up to their threat – and everything points to it – Trump will become the first US head of state against whom two such proceedings have been opened. Another novelty: if the impeachment process actually starts, it should only be completed when the elected president is no longer in the White House. From the perspective of the Democrats, impeachment is inevitable.
Most Americans are still in shock days later when they stormed the Capitol. The mob had incited Trump at a rally on Wednesday, who desperately resisted the fact that Congress wanted to seal the election victory of Democrat Joe Biden. “You will never retake your country with weakness,” shouted Trump. “If you don’t fight like the devil, you will have no more land.” The president also appealed, “Call on Congress to do the right thing.” The result of the violence that followed: five deaths, including a police officer – and devastating scenes at the seat of the US parliament that damage the reputation of the most powerful democracy in the world.
“Danger to national security”
The Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu spoke of a “violent overthrow of Congress” that the rioters who were encouraged by Trump wanted to bring about. Lieu is co-author of the impeachment resolution that the Democrats want to bring to the House of Representatives this week. The President of the United States is described in the draft resolution as a “threat to national security” and is to be charged with “inciting riot”. Even in the chaotic Trump era, that would have been hard to imagine recently.
Supporters of Donald Trump after storming the Capitol: Democrats blame Trump for the attack. (Source: AP / dpa)
The Democrats now want to push for a possible impeachment of Trump at lightning speed. First of all, Vice President Mike Pence is to be given a final deadline to take steps to remove Trump, as the chairman of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced on Sunday. The basis is an additional article of the constitution, according to which the vice-president, together with a majority of important cabinet members, can declare the president incapable of “exercising the rights and duties of the office”. The chances seem slim: The Republican Pence has been ignoring corresponding demands from top Democrats for days.
Chances of success low
The next step is to initiate the parliamentary impeachment procedure with the resolution of Lieu and his colleagues. The House of Representatives could decide on the opening this week, the necessary simple majority is foreseeable. The process itself – which is similar to a court process – would then be conducted by the Senate, the other chamber in Congress. The Senate will not meet again until January 19. According to the impeachment rules, the procedure could start on January 20th at 1 p.m. One hour before Trump’s term of office ends with Biden’s swearing-in.
If the Senate passed a verdict, the Trump era would be history. The approach of the Democrats seems symbolic at first glance, but there is more to it: The resolution not only provides for Trump to be removed from office – but in a second step also to ban him from all government offices for life. It would be the end of the politician Trump, who otherwise could run for the presidency again in 2024.
However, the Democrats’ chances of success are slim. No president has been removed from office in US history. Trump was also acquitted by the Senate last February in his first trial of the so-called Ukraine affair because his Republicans still had a majority in the parliamentary chamber at the time. Since 1798 – when the first trial ever took place with the impeachment of a senator – the Senate not only removed the accused from office in three cases, but also issued a suspension of office. Federal judges were affected in each case.
Trump and the “madness”
The suspension of office cannot be decided alone – the Senate would first have to vote for removal from office with a two-thirds majority. That is not foreseeable, at least not yet: Criticism of Trump is also increasing among Republican senators. Two of them have been openly calling for the president to resign since the weekend, while a third wants to at least consider the House of Representatives indictment. Senator Pat Toomey justified his resignation on Sunday on CNN with the fact that since the election defeat Trump had descended on “a level of madness” that was unforgivable and previously unthinkable.
Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi read the Electoral College results in Congress: Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States. (Source: AP / dpa)
The Democrats also see the impeachment proceedings as a kind of reserve resolution: If Trump affords further serious offenses, the Senate could meet before January 19 to start a lightning-fast process immediately – if all 100 senators agree. The Democrats warn that every day Trump stays in office is a threat to the country. The chairman of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, was already consulting with the armed forces leadership, according to her information on Friday, in order to prevent an “unstable president” from “starting military strikes” or ordering an “atomic attack”.
Last but not least, the Democrats want to initiate an impeachment procedure because they want to make an example. Left Senator Bernie Sanders said: “It needs to be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the American state.” Many compatriots want to get rid of Trump immediately. In an ABC poll published on Sunday, 56 percent said Trump should be removed from office shortly before the end of the day. Another 19 percent are only against the fact that the president is soon to leave anyway. Only 23 percent spoke out against impeachment because Trump did nothing wrong in the week of the fateful Capitol riots.
However, critics of impeachment proceedings warn of the consequences. The first impeachment case against Trump has deepened the political rifts in the United States. Even then, Democrats and Republicans faced each other irreconcilably, as were Trump supporters and Trump opponents in the country. “I am convinced that an impeachment under these circumstances will further divide the country,” warns Senator and long-time Trump confidante Lindsey Graham.
Republicans also raise the question of how an impeachment fits the words of future President Joe Biden – who said the country finally needs healing, calm, unity. Republican Congressman Kevin Brady has accused the Democrats of placing “the desire for revenge above the best interests of the country.” The Democrat Lieu does not want to accept that. “We are healing our nation by holding those responsible for the coup attempt accountable,” he wrote on Twitter. “Starting with the man who instigated him: Donald Trump.”