South Asian Insider
Trump impeachment risks bogging down early days of Biden presidency
The prospect of Donald Trump facing a bitter impeachment trial in the US Senate threatens to cast a shadow over the earliest days of Joe Biden’s presidency, as Washington on Thursday headed into a militarized virtual lockdown ahead of next week’s inauguration. With warnings of more violent protests being planned following the pro-Trump mob’s deadly attack on the US Capitol last week, some Republican members of Congress who voted for the unprecedented second impeachment of the president fear they are in personal danger. Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who voted along with the Democratic majority in the House on Wednesday to impeach Trump, on the charge of incitement of insurrection – after he encouraged the riot in a futile attempt to overturn his election defeat by force – said some of his colleagues were hiring armed escorts and acquiring body armor out of fear for their safety. “When it comes to my family’s safety, that’s something that we’ve been planning for, preparing for, taking appropriate measures,” Meijer told MSNBC. “Our expectation is that somebody may try to kill us,” he said. There is no schedule yet for when the House may present the article of impeachment – essentially the charge against Trump – to the Senate for trial. Trump was acquitted at his first impeachment trial in the Senate early last year after being charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the 2020 election. The Senate resumes full session on the eve of the inauguration events on 20 January to install Biden as the 46th US president and Kamala Harris as his vice-president. A swift impeachment trial would entangle Biden’s urgent efforts to have his cabinet choices confirmed by the Senate and fire up his agenda to tackle the raging coronavirus pandemic as well as the related economic crisis and vaccination chaos. There is no real prospect of Trump being ousted before Biden takes office next Wednesday, after the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, rejected Democratic calls for a quick trial in the Republican-led chamber, saying there was no way to finish it before Trump leaves office. Biden, meanwhile, has urged Senate leaders to avoid an all-consuming trial during his first days in the White House so that they can focus on the crises facing his incoming administration. “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday night. Second impeachment puts Trump in first place among lords of misrule Biden’s inauguration events have already been scaled back due to security concerns and the risks of spreading infection during the Covid-19 pandemic. The west front of the Capitol building, where the swearing-in occurs and which was overrun by marauding rioters invading the US Congress last week, is now fortified by fencing, barriers and thousands of national guard troops. Soldiers have been sleeping sprawled in the marble corridors of the complex. Trump himself is increasingly isolated at the White House and “in self-pity mode”, according to several reports. Under the US constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate to convict Trump, before or after he leaves office, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats. McConnell’s vote would be crucial. At Trump’s first impeachment, no House Republicans voted in favor of charging him and all Republicans in the Senate voted to acquit him except for Utah’s Mitt Romney. If McConnell signaled to his caucus that he would vote to convict Trump this time, that could give other senators the cover they needed to follow suit if they believed privately that Trump deserved it but feared a backlash from voters.On Wednesday, McConnell released a note to Republican senators in which he did not deny that he backed the impeachment push, the New York Times reported. The leader said that he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote, and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate”. McConnell and some other senior Republicans may see conviction as a way to prevent Trump being a liability to the party in the future, and therefore an opportunity. If Trump is already out of office by the time of the trial, historical precedent suggests the Senate could disqualify him from holding office in the future with only a simple majority vote. But the legal details and what would happen, including if Trump attempted to pardon himself in his last days in the White House, are far from resolved. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, set to become majority leader when Biden takes office, said that no matter the timing, “there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate, there will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors, and if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.” The Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio has warned, meanwhile, that the impeachment process risks making Trump a martyr to his diehard supporters. Rubio told NBC he thought Trump bore some responsibility for the attack on the Capitol, which happened on the day both chambers of Congress were meeting in order to certify Joe Biden’s victory, but that putting Trump on trial could make things worse. “It’s like pouring gasoline on fire,” he said, noting that some who were displeased with Trump “after seeing what happened last week, sort of reckoning with the last four years – now all of a sudden they’re circling the wagons and it threatens to make him a martyr.” No US president has ever been removed from office via impeachment. Three – Trump in 2019, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 – were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment.
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