Struggling to make sense of what’s going on in America at the moment? Between Donald Trump’s impeachment and the troubling chaos that has ensued in the US Capitol this week, here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what it all really means.
Donald Trump has become the first president in US history to be impeached twice. On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach him on one article of impeachment, charging the outgoing president with inciting last week’s deadly violence on the US Capitol building during which five people died.
The House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump, with 10 House Republicans breaking with their party and voting in favour. This was in contrast to a year ago, during his first impeachment proceedings, when just one Republican (Senator Mitt Romney) voted to convict him on one count. Some commentators are citing this as a sign of the president’s waning influence in his final days in office.
In a video statement following Wednesday’s historic vote, Trump didn’t take responsibility for the violence, urged his followers to remain peaceful but failed to mention his impeachment.
What does Trump’s impeachment mean?
Impeachment is a process that allows Congress to punish serious presidential misconduct, such as treason, bribery, or behaviour that falls under “other high Crimes and Misdemeanours” The charges are political, not criminal.
Wednesday’s article of impeachment accused Trump of “repeatedly [issuing] false statements asserting that the presidential election results were fraudulent and should not be accepted,” and said he “willfully made statements to the crowd that encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol.”
What happens next?
Trump will face trial in the Senate, the upper chamber of the US congress, to determine his guilt. But it will take place after he’s left office next Wednesday 20 January and will likely stretch into the early days of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Senators will decide whether or not to bar him from holding public office again. To reach the two-thirds majority needed to convict the president, at least 17 Democrats would need to vote with the Democrats in the evenly-split chamber.
The jury’s out on whether this will happen, but according to New York Times reports, on Tuesday, up to 20 Senate Republicans are open to convicting him. The stakes couldn’t be much higher.
What are key figures saying about Donald Trump’s second impeachment?
On the House floor during Wednesday’s debate, House Speaker and Democrat Nancy Pelosi said Trump “incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.” She has also named nine House impeachment managers for Trump’s Senate trial.
Other Democrats had similarly strong words for Trump and his supporters. Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, progressive Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), described her personal experience of the violence on the Capitol in an hour-long Instagram Live video.
“I had a pretty traumatising event happen to me,” she said. “And I do not know if I can even disclose the full details of that event, due to security concerns. But I can tell you that I had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die.”
Ocasio-Cortez continued: “It is not an exaggeration to say that many, many members of the House were nearly assassinated. It’s just not an exaggeration to say that at all. We were very lucky that things happened within certain minutes that allowed members to escape the House floor unharmed. But many of us narrowly escaped death.”
Meanwhile, President-Elect Joe Biden said in a statement that he hoped senators would not neglect the “other urgent business,” because of the upcoming trial, namely, approving his cabinet nominees, coronavirus relief and the nationwide vaccination programme.
Elsewhere, Trump is increasingly losing supporters among his own ranks. According to New York Times reports on Tuesday, the Senate’s Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was “pleased” that Trump was on the brink of being impeached and hoped that it would allow the party to move on from the president.
On Wednesday rather than defending Trump’s actions or rhetoric, most Republicans criticised how the impeachment process was being handled and called on Democrats to drop it for the sake of national unity. Kevin McCarthy, the House’s top Republican, said it would be a “mistake” to impeach him in such a short timeframe. “That doesn’t mean the president’s free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”
Vice President Mike Pence, one of Trump’s staunchest allies during his presidency, said he wouldn’t invoke the 25th Amendment and immediately remove the president from office following the violence on 6th January. But the pair had a public dispute just before those events when Pence refused to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election.
How social media reacted
Twitter, from which the president was recently banned, was predictably awash with hot takes and memes following the impeachment news, with many pointing out that a double impeachment is likely to be Trump’s legacy.
Image: Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty