Bad news for Donald Trump? What would happen if the President was impeached
In political terms, the impeachment of the President of the United States is a doomsday scenario: a time of chaos and confusion when the nation resembles someone falling out of a plane without the aid of a parachute. Yet for the incumbent Republican administration, the prospect seems ever more likely. It’s bad news for Donald Trump, whose tenure in the White House thus far has been fraught with controversy and scandal; but it will take a proven case of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours,” to constitutionally remove him from the White House.
Even though Trump has only been in office for six months, the allegations that his presidential campaign may have had clandestine Russian support have only served to muddy the waters. Trump, for his part, was content to rubbish his critics as sore losers; Clinton supporters who were unfairly persecuting him. But when he made the decision to fire FBI director James Comey, the man conducting an inquiry into Trump’s links with the Kremlin, it convinced many in Washington that Trump was now operating beyond his constitutional authority.
Now, Democrat representative Brad Sherman has officially filed his first article of impeachment against Trump - so there is a possibility that he will be removed from power in the weeks to come. But what will actually happen if this does come to pass? What comes after?
There have been two other cases of Presidential impeachment in US history - Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Richard Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives had a chance to impeach him. The laws regarding the assumption of office were amended in 1967 following the Kennedy Assassination. The 25th amendment states that Trump, like Nixon, has the option to resign - but this is dependent on Vice President Mike Pence’s guilt.
Much like any conventional legislature, the committee-approved impeachment must have a majority vote in the House of Representatives; that’s 218 votes out of 435 members. At the moment the Republican party holds 238 seats while Democrats hold 193. Another four seats are currently vacant, which means 25 Republicans would have to vote against their own leader. After this unlikely event, a two-thirds majority vote is needed in the Senate to convict him and remove him from office.
It’s pretty likely therefore that the process will be slow and protracted; unlike Clinton’s impeachment process, which only took three months in the wake of his perjury during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And of course, the case against Trump would have to be completely watertight. We’re not just talking about a parking fine here. This is one of the most serious charges any elected official can face.
Trump’s impeachment proceedings will take the form of a trial before the senate, in which with each side will witnesses to the stand, submit evidence which convicts or exonerates, and perform cross-examinations. Trial managers present the case for the prosecution, and Trump will be defended by a team of attorneys.
Once the Senate has decided whether to convict or acquit, a copy of their formal verdict is filed with the Secretary of State. If that comes to pass, then Trump will be automatically removed from office and from holding future office. Trump could also face additional criminal prosecution, including charges of treason for his possible collusion with the Kremlin.
Then the presidency will pass to Mike Pence, who would probably be sworn into office the day after Trump is removed. The hours in between will be a strange, liminal period as White House staff members prepare for the new President, and during which the US military will be supported by generals and chiefs of staff, who will do their best to keep the gigantic American infrastructure moving. It’s a time when American democracy is frighteningly vulnerable.
Pence would be expected to deliver a budget request for the government and give a State of the Union address. There’s also a chance that Trump himself could resist impeachment proceedings, in which case Pence’s ascension may take longer than expected. If Pence is also found guilty, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will take the oath of office and be sworn in in his stead. Only time will tell whether the Doomsday will come around and whether the various bits of bad news for Donald Trump will curdle into something completely toxic. Until then, everyone - the house, congress and the senate - will be bracing themselves and preparing for the unthinkable.