Is a second impeachment of Donald Trump really “so ill-advised,” as Joe Manchin claims? It depends on what House Democrats want out of it. If they hope to get Trump removed and barred from further office, Manchin warns that it won’t happen. The votes simply don’t exist:
“I think this is so ill-advised for Joe Biden to be coming in, trying to heal the country, trying to be the president of all the people when we are going to be so divided and fighting again. Let the judicial system do its job,” said Manchin, who represents a state where Trump is very popular.
Manchin added that he did not believe there would be the support in the Senate to meet the two-thirds vote required to convict Trump. He indicated that he had been trying to convey that message to the House amid its discussions about the path forward following last week’s attack on the Capitol.
“We’ve been trying to send that message over. They know the votes aren’t there,” Manchin said.
The trial might not even be there by the time this reaches the Senate, although that might not be quite as locked in as Mitch McConnell previously thought. The Senate does not come back into formal session for substantive business until January 19, and the rules for receiving articles of impeachment and starting a trial would mean that the earliest it could possibly take place would be one hour after Joe Biden officially takes over the office. That might moot the whole exercise, but Schumer thinks he’s found a loophole:
The Senate is not scheduled to come into session until Jan. 19, delaying any impeachment trial until the start of Biden’s administration. The chamber ordinarily could not reconvene earlier unless all 100 senators agreed.
That has prompted Schumer to explore an obscure authority that would allow him, along with the current majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to jointly reconvene the Senate in cases of emergency, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss evolving party strategy.
Schumer is investigating whether this option would allow for a potential Trump trial to begin immediately after the House transmits the articles to the Senate, rather than waiting until Jan. 19.
But McConnell would have to agree to such a maneuver, and it is far from clear that he would. Aides to McConnell — who had ignored Trump’s calls before Wednesday’s siege and now has no plans to call him back, according to one official — did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Don’t be so sure that McConnell would reject the idea out of hand. There has clearly been a break between Trump and McConnell over the past month; the two are no longer speaking with one another, and McConnell went out of his way to put aside the election challenges after the Electoral College meeting on December 14. If there were a real demand in the Senate Republican caucus to hold a trial, McConnell might well cooperate with Schumer on an emergency session. Or perhaps McConnell might use it as leverage to get Trump to resign early, under threat of removal and bar from future office, which becomes possible if the Senate comes into such an emergency session.
It would be a bluff, though, because the votes aren’t there and everyone knows it. It’s not that Trump doesn’t deserve the humiliation, but that Senate Republicans won’t commit political seppuku by removing someone who’s hours away from the exit anyway. Even Joe Manchin wonders what’s the point of that, and two former Senate leaders agree:
Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle warned his party against impeaching President Donald Trump for inciting the mob attack on the Capitol, arguing that even a delayed Senate trial risks impeding urgent action President-elect Joe Biden must take to bolster the economy and combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Daschle, who led Senate Democrats the last time the chamber was evenly divided, was joined by Trent Lott, who led Senate Republicans at the time, in urging Congress instead to formally censure the president. The two men were also their parties’ Senate leaders during President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.
Daschle called impeachment at a moment that party control of the Senate is so tenuous a “mistake,” saying it would first “galvanize” Trump’s supporters and then delay work on crucial issues. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has favored proceeding, even with the coming 50-50 split in the chamber.
“An impeachment mechanism is just not the right course at all if they want to hold the president accountable,” Daschle said at a forum Monday with Lott held by the Bipartsian Policy Center.
Ahem. The impeachment mechanism is about the only choice that Congress has to hold a president accountable, especially in his final days in office. They can’t block any of his appointees, nor can they use the power of the purse to choke off Trump’s initiatives. As for censure, that’s a mechanism for accountability on members of Congress, not presidents, which makes it meaningless — especially in this instance, where the president has already been impeached once in the same session of Congress. In that context, a censure would be an exercise of futility.
But perhaps House Democrats understand all of this, and aren’t looking for the Senate to do much of anything. Oh, they’d certainly love to see Schumer and McConnell arrange an emergency session and remove Trump, along with imposing a bar on future office, but I doubt they expect that to happen any more than Manchin does. Passing a second impeachment makes Trump the only US president to have been impeached twice, a very special stain that Trump won’t be able to shake — especially if no Senate trial takes place and Trump can claim vindication through the failure of a removal vote. If that’s all the accountability they can get for what happened on Capitol Hill last week, they’ll take it.