On January 6, supporters of outgoing US President Donald Trump took over the US Capitol Building, which houses the meeting chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The aim of this violence was to disrupt the congressional vote to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college win and to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
Ahead of the vote in Congress, Trump called on his supporters to rally in Washington, DC against what he claims was a “fraudulent election”, and so they did. Some Republican members of Congress also refused to certify their states’ votes, supporting the president. The result of this dangerous behaviour was the death of four people, the arrest of dozens, the injury of several police officers and the ransacking of the Capitol Building.
Upon the request from Vice President Mike Pence, more than 1,000 National Guard troops were deployed to restore order, while Twitter went as far as temporarily suspending Trump’s account to prevent him from inciting violence further.
In the evening, Congress reconvened and continued the process of certifying Biden’s win. The violent scenes on Capitol Hill had shocked many Republicans and some had decided to withdraw their objections in Congress. After rejecting Republican challenges to the results in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, Congress certified the election’s outcome. In the early hours of January 7, the joint session of Congress ended with Pence confirming Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Throughout this time, calls for Trump’s impeachment and forcible removal from office have kept pouring on TV networks and social media, as the United State is reeling after an unprecedented attempt to overthrow its democracy. So what recourse options are there for what happened?
One option is for the House of Representatives to impeach Trump and the Senate to convict him, which would remove him from office. Representative Ilhan Omar has already said she is drafting new articles of impeachment against the president.
The constitution requires a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives for an impeachment to be confirmed and a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate in order to convict an impeached president. This means about a dozen Republicans would need to break with their record and vote to convict Trump.
Another potential avenue being discussed by US media is for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment of the US constitution, which outlines mechanisms for declaring the president unfit for office. For that to happen the vice president and the majority of cabinet members have to support the move; if the president refuses to step down, then two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate have to vote in favour of removing him.
The 25th Amendment has been invoked six times in US history, three times it was temporary and due to the president’s health, as was the case when President Ronald Reagan used it to transfer the powers of the presidency to Vice President George H W Bush while he had surgery. The amendment, however, has never been used to remove a sitting president who refuses to give up power.
So, are either of these options likely to work?
The unprecedented nature of the Trump-inspired insurrection has shocked many Republicans. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – rejected the decision by members of his own party to protest the peaceful transfer of power, and so did prominent Republican Senator Lindsay Graham; other Republican members of Congress also withdrew their objections to Biden’s win certification. There seems to be a growing acknowledgement within the GOP of how much political damage Trump has done to the party and the country.
In both recourse options, the process has to go through Congress. It is definitely possible for the House of Representatives to impeach Trump for a second time, but could McConnell rally the votes to convict Trump in the Senate? He could, but he will not. It is also doubtful that both the House and the Senate would get a two-thirds majority voting to invoke the 25th Amendment.
The Republican Party is deeply divided and in crisis and the last thing they will do is cause more damage by forcibly removing Trump from office. After all, like it or not, 74 million Americans voted for him and the Republican Party remains the party of Donald Trump. They can disagree with him (at their own peril), but to publicly remove him from power would take moral and political courage that McConnell and Republicans just do not have.
Besides impeachment and forcible removal from office, what other options are available? There aren’t really any. Congress could censure the president with a formal and public condemnation, but this has no legal implications.
The likelier scenario is that Trump will remain in office until Biden is sworn in on January 20, and he and his supporters will continue to claim the election was rigged and to protest the peaceful transition of power.