It seems fitting that as we sit on the precipice of a new presidency and a historic vice presidency, we’re also just two days removed from a domestic terrorist attack that has left five dead and far more questions than answers.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol building in Washington D.C., the question is no longer will Trump leave, but in what manner and when?
Twitter has already taken the long overdue step of permanently banning Trump’s personal account. His accounts on Facebook and Instagram have also been indefinitely suspended, and the far-right social application, Parler, has been removed from the Apple and Google Play stores until the site “put in place a stronger content moderation system,” according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.
But the question currently on everyone’s mind is — will Trump be removed from office before January 20?
House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has already laid out demands of the outgoing president — resign immediately or face impeachment.
No president in history has been impeached twice, but nothing in the Constitution prevents a second impeachment and articles of impeachment have already been drafted and could be delivered as soon as Monday morning.
If Trump were to be impeached and removed by way of a bipartisan supermajority of 66 Senatorial yay votes, he would forfeit his lifetime pension of around $200,000, his travel allowance of up to $1 million, his lifetime full Secret Service detail, and lastly, his ability to ever run for public office again.
Can it happen before January 20?
Yes. But it would, again, require that supermajority of 66 votes, or 2/3 of the current Senate body, to do it. That’s assuming a 2/3 majority is reached in the House of Representatives, which shouldn’t be a tall order to accomplish.
Will 18 Republicans actually cross the divide and vote with their Democratic colleagues?
It’s not likely. During the first impeachment trial in the Senate last year, only Mitt Romney (R-Utah) crossed the line and voted to convict Trump.
As of this writing, only Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has signaled that she would vote to convict Trump for inciting Wednesday’s terror attack on the Capitol, having asked him to resign on Wednesday morning.
It would be safe to assume that Romney would once again vote yes, joining Murkowski and leaving the number of needed Republican senators at 16.
While neither has signaled a choice, it would also be somewhat safe to assume Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) might also cross the line.
Still, even with all of them, that leaves 12 more needed.
Not impossible, not very likely.
What if the process extends beyond January 20?
Trump can still be impeached, even as an ex-president.
The ramifications of such an endeavor would still be massive for Trump, not just from a historical perspective, but for his political future as well.
If the House impeaches Trump and the Senate, now under a slim Democratic majority and featuring many members of a Republican Party in the process of rebuilding itself and its own prospects, votes to convict Trump, it would take only a simple majority to issue a permanent, as stated in the Constitution, “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
What if Trump resigns before conviction, like Nixon?
Nixon forfeited his salary and office expenses by resigning, but kept his Secret Service detail, pension, and some expense allowances by leaving voluntarily.
However, Nixon’s post-presidential life was heavily aided by the total pardon he received from his successor, President Gerald Ford. Absent that, it’s likely that Congress in 1974 would have continued the legal case against Nixon and stripped him of everything.
It’s unlikely that President Biden will see any reason to step in for his predecessor in a similar way.
In that vein, without the help of a presidential pardon of all crimes, Trump, even in resignation, will still be subject to impeachment and a ban on future runs for office if Congress decides to go that route.
Can Trump pardon himself before he leaves?
This is something Trump has flirted with a lot during his tenure and, Constitutionally speaking, is kind of unclear.
No president has ever issued a pardon for himself, so the legal legitimacy of such a maneuver is murky, at best. Would the courts recognize it? Would the Supreme Court have to step in and issue a groundbreaking ruling on the matter?
Trump, in recent weeks, has offered preemptive pardons to aides and allies and internally polled his staffers on whether he should pardon himself lest he be made vulnerable to law enforcement beyond January 20.
Whatever the answers here are, rest assured, Trump will make it as messy as he can.
What if Trump resigns before the inauguration and Pence pardons him?
While I would hate to create or augment an idea here, it is possible that a President Pence could pardon Trump in the days between now and January 20.
Simply put, Trump resigns, Pence takes office and, much like Ford, pardons Trump so that the country can move forward and leave this mess behind.
From a Constitutional standpoint, it’s again pretty unclear whether or not Congress could do anything at that point with regards to Trump. It’s also pretty uncertain that Pence would do this given what Trump just unleashed on him on Wednesday, but you never know.