How We’re Thinking About Impeachment

Oral arguments are now underway in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

In one of the trial’s first major flashpoints, the Democratic House impeachment managers (the prosecutors, basically) beat back a challenge from Trump’s legal team, which argued that a president can’t be tried on impeachment charges after leaving office.

But the vote this afternoon wasn’t all bad news for the former president: Forty-four Republican senators backed his lawyers’ argument that the trial was moot. While that wasn’t enough to throw out the trial, it would be more than enough to acquit him, since conviction requires a two-thirds majority.

If you haven’t already listened, today’s episode of “The Daily” includes an informative conversation between Michael Barbaro and Jim Rutenberg, a writer at large for The Times, outlining the legal strategies that each side has signaled it will pursue this week.

But to dive in a little further on the political implications of the trial, I spoke to Lisa Lerer, my newsletter-writing colleague, who has been closely following the proceedings in Washington — and talking to insiders about what it might mean for each party’s future.

Hi Lisa. Almost exactly a year ago, the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial. Only one Republican voted to convict him. Democratic lawmakers must feel they’ve got a stronger shot this time, since they’re trying him again. What do they think makes this different, and how have they adjusted their strategy since last year’s trial?

It’s hard to find a Democrat who believes the trial will result in a conviction. But the sense within the party is that the siege on the Capitol was such an extraordinary threat to democracy that the former president must be held accountable for stoking it. To let Trump’s rhetoric go unpunished, they say, would set a dangerous precedent of impunity for future presidents.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the trial’s start, only 28 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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