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Donald Trump has been impeached, what happens next?

The process now moves to the Senate but exactly when is not clear.

President Donald Trump hugs the American flag at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
President Donald Trump hugs the American flag at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Image: PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump last night became just the third US president to be impeached, joining Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

That does not mean that he will be removed from office, however, that will be determined by the US Senate. 

In both of those previous cases, the presidents were not removed from office and the expectation is Trump won’t be either.

So this is what will happen next.

Impeachment is a process undertaken by the US House of Representatives which draws up and votes on articles of impeachment.

If an article or articles are passed by a simple majority in the House, the process moves to the US Senate for a trial. 

In the Senate trial, representatives from the House act as prosecutors and the president and his attorneys present his defence.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial and the 100-member Senate then votes on the charges. A two-thirds majority is necessary to convict and remove the president.

If the president is convicted, the vice president would then take over the White House.

Democrats currently have a majority in the House and Republicans have a majority in the Senate, so the expectation is that the Senate will vote to acquit Trump. 

Last night’s House vote went more or less along party lines and the Republican majority in the Senate makes conviction of the president unlikely. 

The Senate is currently made up of 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats and the two-thirds majority rule means that 20 Republicans and all Democrats would have to vote to convict Trump. 

In Democrat Clinton’s case, the 45 Democratic Senators stayed united to block a two-thirds vote for conviction.

So, when will the trial in the Senate happen?

We’re currently at the point between the House and Senate processes, but exactly when we’ll see the trial is unclear. 

The trial won’t be until the new year at least but the transfer of the articles from the House to the Senate is at the discretion of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and she has given little away about her immediate intentions.

There are reports in the US media that some Democrats are urging Pelosi to hold off on sending the articles to the Senate.

Asked about this yesterday, Pelosi threw uncertainty into the process by refusing to say, repeatedly, when or whether she would send two articles to the Senate for a trial.

She started by praising her fellow Democrats for having “moral courage” and said it was “a great day for the Constitution of the United States of America.”

But then she declined to say when she would send the articles to the Republican-led Senate. Until the articles are submitted, the Senate cannot hold the trial.

Asked again if she could guarantee that she would send the articles to the Senate, Pelosi said at the news conference: “That would have been our intention.”

But they will see what the Senate decides, she said.

“We are not having that discussion. We have done what we set out to do,” Pelosi added.

When/if it does happen, what will the Senate trial look like? 

u-s-washington-d-c-trump-impeachment Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Source: PA Images

If the procedures used in the 1868 and 1999 trials are repeated, Democratic prosecutors, or “impeachment managers” will enter the Senate to read out the articles of impeachment, or charges.

“All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment,” the Senate sergeant-at-arms will warn. This is the official who notifies the White House by summons that the president has been charged.

Speaking yesterday, Pelosi said House Democrats could not name impeachment managers until they know more about how the Senate will conduct a trial.

The Republican majority in the Senate means the party will have control over how the trial is conducted.

They can decide if witnesses can be called, and which ones, how long prosecutors can take to present their case and how long the trial will last.

If the Senate doesn’t want to try Trump at all, it can simply dismiss the case by a simple majority vote.

And given Trump’s political hold over his party, the rules can be dictated by the White House itself.

A battle has already erupted between Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over whether witnesses will be called and evidence demanded.

Those issues could prolong the trial from the two weeks McConnell has reportedly envisioned to over a month. Clinton’s trial ran for five weeks.

Democrats hope that four Republican senators might join them to form a majority, forcing McConnell to allow witnesses.

It underscores the complex role of Senators and the essential political nature of the process.

Even before impeachment passed the House, some Republicans declared where they stood.

“The House impeachment articles are a joke,” Senator Josh Hawley told Fox News. “This whole thing is a joke and it’s time to get the president exonerated.” 

McConnell also said that he is coordinating with the White House and declared that: “I am not an impartial juror.”

“We’ll be working through this process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time, in total coordination with White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate,” McConnell said this week.

“There is zero chance that the president will be removed from office,” he added.

- With reporting by Associated Press and © – AFP 2019 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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