Jan 17, 2021 Letters
As your paper reported and as commented on, President Donald Trump was impeached in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. That does not mean removal from office. Only the Senate can remove him. His trial goes to the Senate for a hearing and a verdict. Will the President be rendered guilty? Not likely!
A guilty verdict means immediate removal from office. With only a few days remaining in his four years term, it is the analysis of this writer that Trump will finish his term on Wednesday morning and fly out to Miami.
Most Guyanese I spoke with in Guyana and in the diaspora don’t really understand the concept of impeachment according to the US constitution. They are of the mistaken belief that impeachment equals the removal from office. “Trump done bai. Congress impeaches him. He gone.” Many Americans also hold the same belief. A clarification of the meaning of the concept is warranted. Impeachment is not removal from office. I happened to have studied US constitutional law when I was doing a PhD in Political Science and MS in Educational Administration. Constitutional law was mandatory for both disciplines. Thus, I have knowledge of the process.
Impeachment simply means an equivalent of an indictment in a court. It means an allegation or a charge was made against the President. The House examined the evidence and a discussion was held. That was followed by a vote among the 435 elected members of the Lower House. A simple majority vote was needed for an indictment. The matter is sent to the Senate where a trial will take place. A conviction requires a ‘yes’ vote by 67 members (two-thirds majority) of only the elected 100 members of the Upper House. That is a most difficult task. No American President was ever convicted (removed from office).
Trump is the only President in the history of the US to be impeached more than once. He was impeached last year but was not convicted. That vote took place along partisan lines – Democrats voted to impeach while Republicans voted to exonerate him. The current impeachment charges Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and for “inciting violence against the government of the United States.” A dozen Republicans voted to impeach Trump this week along with Democrats.
What happens next? It is not clear if the matter will be brought up for a trial. The clock is ticking and may run out of time. A trial and a vote must be held before Tuesday, Trump’s last full day in office. Given the limited time, with a trial taking at least two days, the Senate may ignore the process. For a trial to take place, the Majority leader of the Senate has to schedule the hearing. Currently, it is Republican Mitch McConnell. He may not want to touch the matter fearing the political fallout for himself and his party. He may simply ignore the request for a trial, saying time does not allow for it or find some other delaying process. This leads to a natural death of the impeachment once President elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday morning.
McConnel has been silent on his plan. McConnel’s majority leadership comes to an end after the swearing in of the next Vice President on Wednesday. The Senate is tied 50-50 from Wednesday. The Vice President, who is ‘the Chair’ of the Senate, casts a tie-breaking vote. Kamala Harris, a Democrat, will hold that position from January 21.
Currently, all the Democrats (50) plan to vote for conviction. Ten Republican Senators plan to support the move to expel Trump from the Presidency. The indictment is short of seven for a conviction. Two other Republicans may support the vote. Five more Senators would be needed to remove Trump from office. If the vote is successful, the Vice President is sworn in as the next President. That would be Mike Pence. He would inherit all the perks of office including a hefty $200K annual pension and security just for being President for a few days or even a day.
McConnell will decide Trump’s faith. In all likelihood, he will not schedule a trial, ending the impeachment process.
Vishnu Bisram (Political Scientist)
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