On January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The official charge of impeachment was incitement of insurrection. This impeachment was historic for two reasons. First, it made Trump the first president in history to be impeached twice. And second, it was the first time that the president in question had already left office when the trial began. But is it legal to impeach a president whose term has already ended? Congressional Democrats said yes, but the Trump team said no. Election Central takes a closer look at this most unusual case.
The foundation of Trump’s legal argued that when referencing impeachment, the Constitution says “president,” not “former president.” They say that the goal of an impeachment conviction is removal from office–and Trump was already out of office–then according to the Trump team, the entire impeachment trial was pointless.
The Democrats arguing for the former president’s conviction say that the timing of the trial is not what mattered. It was the timing of the behavior that caused it–and the behavior in question happened while Trump was still in office. Despite the Trump team’s claims that the Senate did not have the legal authority to try a former president.
Though Trump was impeached for the second time, he was acquitted by the Senate on February 13, 2021. 57 senators voted to convict former president Trump. This number represented all of the Democratic Party senators and seven Republicans. The 43 members who voted against conviction were all Republicans. However, the number needed to convict Trump was 67—which represents a two-thirds majority of the 100 members of the Senate.
Republican senators who voted to convict the former president are being reprimanded by their political party. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was one Republican who cast a vote to convict Trump. He has been publicly censured by county-level party officials in Pennsylvania. (A censure is a formal statement of strong disapproval.) Toomey was already planning not to run for reelection.
Other Republicans, including Richard Burr (NC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Liz Cheney (WY), Tom Rice (SC), and Ben Sasse (NE) were also censured by their state Republican party officials. Some, like Burr are also not planning to run again for Senate office. Cheney recently won a strong reelection campaign before the conviction vote was passed.