The second impeachment of President Donald Trump by the US House of Representatives, for inciting last week’s deadly rampage at the Capitol, could set off a bitter Senate fight that entangles the early days of President-elect Joe Biden’s term.
Trump became the first president in US history to be impeached twice when the House voted 232-197 on Wednesday to charge him with inciting the riot. Ten of Trump’s fellow Republicans joined Democrats in approving the article of impeachment.
But the swift impeachment is unlikely to lead to Trump’s ouster before Biden takes office on January 20. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, rejected Democratic calls for a quick impeachment trial, saying there was no way to finish it before Trump leaves office.
That raised the prospect of a bitter trial in the Senate during Biden’s first days in the White House, something he urged Senate leaders to avoid. Biden said work on the economy, getting the coronavirus vaccine programme on track and confirming crucial Cabinet posts was too crucial to delay.
“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.
The House passed one article of impeachment - equivalent to an indictment in a criminal trial - accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection,” focused on an incendiary speech he delivered to thousands of supporters shortly before the riot. In the speech, Trump repeated false claims that the election was fraudulent and exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol.
The mob disrupted Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 3 election, sent lawmakers into hiding and left five people dead, including a police officer.
Under the Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove Trump, meaning at least 17 Republicans in the 100-member chamber would have to join the Democrats.
Even if Trump is already out of the White House, conviction in the Senate could lead to a vote banning him from running again.
McConnell has said no trial could begin until the Senate was scheduled to be back in regular session on Tuesday, the day before Biden’s inauguration.