Democrats and a good part of America are visibly outraged at what happened on January 6 — the rioting that left at least five persons, including a police officer dead, an event that would not have happened without the 45th President directing the operations from the White House, including watching the mayhem from close circuit cameras with family members.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, whose office was ransacked, has demanded that Trump immediately resign or be thrown out by the 25th Amendment; on Monday, she will be introducing one Article of Impeachment that will be directly voted upon side-stepping the customary Committees. The second impeachment of Trump, which has come to be known as ‘Twinpeached’ has the backing of a good many Republicans as well, both in the House and the Senate.
Speaker Pelosi, or for that matter the incoming Democratic Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, should know better on throwing Trump out via the 25th amendment, which is why the vice-president Mike Pence is hesitant to touch it with a barge pole. For starters when people are talking about this amendment that came into effect in 1967, they are referring to Section 4; not Section 3 that has been used before by Presidents to temporarily hand over powers to their deputies as they were going through a medical procedure. The last time Section 3 was used was when vice-president Dick Cheney was briefly the President in 2007 when President George W Bush underwent a colonoscopy procedure. But Section 4 that has not been invoked thus far refers to removing a President for incapacity or “unable to discharge” his duties.
Pence knows that the cards on Section 4 are stacked against him. A majority of Cabinet members have to write to him in confidence and individually of their reservations against Trump; and upon getting this he will forward it to the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, after which he will be sworn in as President. But here is the catch: Trump can contest this and write back saying that he is perfectly capable which then pushes the ball back in the courts of the House of Representatives and Senate who then have to individually decide by a two-thirds majority on the fate of the President within a 21-day period. In this time frame, the vice-president is the acting President.
Knowing Trump the way he does, Pence is aware of the stakes as there is the high embarrassment of two persons contesting to be the President; and this is why without the vice-president’s active nod, the 25th Amendment goes nowhere. Pence has also one other thing to ponder about: what if Trump were to fire all his Cabinet members? Where will the letters come from? Section 4 is quiet on whether the next in line to a Cabinet Secretary can send that letter to the vice-president. Further, even if Trump nominates new Cabinet members, confirming them in the Senate and putting them in their seats prior to January 20 is an impossibility especially when the Senate is on a recess until January 19, unless there is unanimous consent to come earlier.
That leaves Speaker Pelosi and Democrats with the option of pursuing the second impeachment of Trump even if all customary procedures are going to be sidestepped for paucity of time. A truncated impeachment process will muster enough votes in the House from Democrats and a small group of Republicans perhaps, but what about the Senate that would have to start a trial and then put it through a vote where a two-third majority is required to convict?
The Democrats may have won back a majority in the Senate with victories in two of the run-offs in Georgia, but at least 17 Republicans have to cross over to Democrats to give the 67 votes majority. The shameful riots incited by Trump have sent shockwaves in the Grand Old Party, but the big question is whether such a big group of Republicans will bolt and vote against Trump. Here again if time is the big factor, Trump can still be impeached after January 20, and, if that is successful, he stands to lose his pension, secret service protection and will be permanently barred from contesting for federal offices, including a presidential run in 2024, an idea he has been toying around with. One perception is that law-makers will want to complete the impeachment and convict Trump after January 20 as some Republicans will have the way cleared for a presidential run in 2024.
That leaves the Democrats with the last option: let the clock run out even while keeping the Damocles sword hanging over the President’s head. Unlike in the past where he seemed to go about in total impunity, this time around there were signs of a rattled person who seemed to be aware that his game of invite, incite, enjoy and condemn was up and for all to see even more clearly. Senior Democratic law-makers are legitimately concerned about the “capabilities” of their President in the final days — especially since he has been politically wounded — and have put out the call to the top military brass to secure the nuclear codes. Still others have not ruled out the prospect of Trump starting a war on the eve of his departures just to leave a mess for the incoming President.
If the incoming President Joseph Biden has stayed clear of giving any opinion on the second impeachment of Donald Trump, it is not without good reasons. Biden, in spite of all the provocations, knows well the divisions and hurt in America have a long way to go before they heal and that his first job would be to put in place mechanisms that unites the country rather than further dividing it. Some of Trump’s crowd have promised to return on January 20 for a re-run of January 6, but for now there are enough well-meaning Democrats and Republicans who want Trump to just fade away. And if he is not going to show up on Inauguration Day, few, including Biden, would be losing any sleep on this account.
The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.