President Donald Trump made history on Wednesday, becoming the only US president to be impeached twice after the House of Representatives voted 232-197 in favour.
“If this isn’t an impeachable offence,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said during a debate ahead of the vote, “I don’t know what is.” But only a small sample of Republicans agreed. Though many Republicans condemned the storming of the Capitol, only 10 voted with the Democrats. Some said that they did not want to further inflame or divide the country; others offered to establish a bipartisan commission to look into what happened if Trump was not impeached, trading tangible accountability for the promise of an investigation.
Congress had previously asked vice-president Mike Pence to remove Trump from office by invoking the 25th amendment. On Tuesday, Pence and Trump met for the first time since a violent mob stormed the Capitol. Trump reportedly told the vice-president that he could go down in history as “a patriot” or “a pussy.” Pence then informed Congress and the country that he would not invoke the 25th amendment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, has privately suggested that he is not opposed to impeachment. But he has also indicated that the Senate will not take up the articles of impeachment until 19 January, the day before Trump leaves office. Trump could be convicted after leaving office, provided the sentence imposed isn’t just removal from office, but also a bar on ever holding elected office again. But two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict Trump, meaning 17 Republicans would need to side with their Democratic colleagues.
Such an outcome is not impossible. A handful of Republicans have already suggested they are open to the idea, which would conveniently also rule Trump out as a future political opponent. But Republican Senators would have to decide that they’re no longer afraid of Trump supporters. That would make history of another kind.