In Focus

What will be different about Trump’s historic second impeachment?

Senior Republicans less keen to protect their president at unprecedented new Senate trial

Donald Trump has made history by becoming the first president to be impeached twice, after Congress voted to take action in the wake of last week’s riot on Capitol Hill.

The House of Representatives voted 232-197 yesterday to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, with ten Republicans breaking ranks to side with Democrats in backing a second Senate trial.

Trump is charged with “incitement of insurrection” amid allegations of “encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud”, the BBC reports. And while the president was acquitted less than a year ago at the conclusion of his last Senate trial, his former allies appear less inclined to back him this time around.

Back in the dock

Impeachment charges are political, rather than criminal, and have political repercussions. If found guilty, Trump would be barred from holding federal office in the future, ending any plans he might have to run for the White House again in 2024.

Congress has cited a speech given by Trump on 6 January to supporters outside the White House in which he told them to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard, but also to “fight like hell” against the result of November’s presidential election, which he has repeatedly claimed was fraudulent.

As The Guardian notes, Wednesday’s vote marks the “most bipartisan impeachment in American history”, with Republican members of Congress lining up to condemn the president.

The vote has opened a faultline within the GOP, however, with “freshman” lawmakers “feuding with each other” over the charges, the paper continues.

Indeed, this second impeachment is taking place against a backdrop of Republic divisions not seen during the first, when the vote in Congress was split along party lines. This time, “some of the most high-profile members of Republican leadership aren’t denouncing the Democratic effort”.

More widely, the row over impeachment has seen “Washington devolve into a miasma of suspicion and conflict”, says The New York Times. During the pre-vote debate, “a Democratic member of Congress accused Republican colleagues of helping the mob last week scout the building in advance”, while some GOP members “sidestepped magnetometers intended to keep guns off the House floor”.

Judge McConnell presiding

Trump is now facing a trial in the Senate. Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that the trial will not begin before Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. 

However, the hugely influential Republican senator “signaled through advisers Tuesday that he would be open to a possible conviction”, reports The Washington Post.

In a statement posted on Twitter yesterday, McConnell said “there was simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude” before Biden takes over the White House on 20 January.

The three previous impeachment proceedings have taken 83, 37 and 21 days respectively, McConnell points out.

All the same, his apparent willingness to open to impeachment marks a huge difference between this second Democratic effort and Trump’s trial in 2020.

“How things will shake out in the Senate is a mystery,” says The Guardian. But “this time it’s conceivable a few more Republicans could join Democrats, though they need 17 to convict”. 

During last year’s trial, only Senator Mitt Romney voted with Democrats against Trump. But McConnell’s suggestion that he could conceive of the president having committed impeachable offences could move the dial.

“I have 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,” he said in a letter sent to fellow GOP senators. 

As The Guardian notes, such comments from the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill are “a far cry” from the stance taken by Trump’s party during his first impeachment.

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