House Democrats voted Wednesday to approve a single article of impeachment to remove Donald Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection’ in Jan. 6′s Capitol Hill riot. Here’s what you need to know.

Latest updates

  • Donald Trump, now the only U.S. president to be impeached twice, said nothing about the House of Representatives’ historic vote to censure him on Wednesday, instead issuing a new video appealing for peace after the U.S. Capitol siege that he incited last week. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence,” said Mr. Trump, who has not apologized for his role in Jan. 6′s deadly chaos.
  • Ten Republicans sided with the Democrats when lawmakers voted 232-197 to accuse Mr. Trump of “incitement to insurrection.” Next, the case must move to the Senate, where Republican leader Mitch McConnell is blocking Democrat efforts to hold an emergency session before Jan. 20′s inauguration of Joe Biden – meaning Mr. Trump’s trial is almost certain to happen after that.

Impeachment explained

Lawmakers don’t have that much time to hold President Donald Trump to account for inciting Jan. 6′s Capitol Hill riot: The inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden, is on Jan. 20. Here’s how they’re skipping a few steps to complete at least part of the impeachment process before inauguration day.


To impeach, Congress has to write up specific allegations of wrongdoing, called articles of impeachment, that point to “high crimes and misdemeanours” committed by the president. For Mr. Trump’s first impeachment in late 2019, there were two articles: One alleged Mr. Trump abused his power by threatening to withhold U.S. military aid so his Ukrainian counterpart would investigate Mr. Biden, the other alleged that Mr. Trump obstructed justice to cover this up. It took the fall and winter of 2019 to come up with the wording of the articles because the alleged crimes took place largely behind closed doors, and the House Judiciary Committee held hearings first to sort out conflicting accounts of what happened.

This time, Mr. Trump’s offence – encouraging a crowd of thousands to “fight like hell” for him while Congress was confirming his rival’s Electoral College votes – took place on live television, as did the deadly and destructive mob attack on the legislature that followed. So the Democrats didn’t wait long: They introduced a single impeachment article on Jan. 11 accusing him of “incitement of insurrection.” It argues that his incendiary remarks “encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action at the Capitol” and “gravely endangered the security of the United States.” Two days later, the article was passed 232-197.


The Senate is the only body that can hold a trial to remove an impeached president from office. Last time, the Senate was Republican-controlled and it voted to acquit Mr. Trump of both abuse of power and obstruction of justice. This time, the Democrats will have a narrow majority, but not until after the swearing-in of vice-president-elect Kamala Harris (which happens on Jan. 20) and two Democratic Georgia senators (which can happen only after their runoff election results are certified). Mr. Trump would be represented by a lawyer in the Senate trial, and it’s not yet clear who would be willing to take that assignment. To convict, two-thirds of the Senate will need to vote in favour of removal from office, which means at least some Republicans must be on board.

House Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking efforts to call the Senate back for an emergency session before inauguration day. That won’t necessarily mean the trial begins as soon as the Senate reconvenes: One possible strategy – championed by House Democrat Jim Clyburn – would be to wait to send the Senate the article of impeachment until after Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office. This would be too late for an early removal of Mr. Trump, but it could be an effective way to limit Mr. Trump’s future political influence (more on that later).

The 25th Amendment explained

There was a simpler and faster alternative to impeaching Mr. Trump, but Vice-President Mike Pence refused to support it despite a House resolution on Tuesday that asked him to.

The 25th Amendment was introduced in the 1960s, after the Kennedy assassination, to create a formal process for the vice-president to assume power if their boss were killed or incapacitated. The part that might have applied in Mr. Trump’s case is in Section 4:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

The vice-president has a lot of legal room to interpret “unable” very broadly, not just in medical terms. In other words, the Vice-President and cabinet could have decided Mr. Trump was mentally unfit to be President and made Mr. Pence the acting president immediately.

Alternatively, Congress could have issued a law designating some group other than the cabinet to make this call, as Ms. Pelosi proposed to do with a special panel, but the final House resolution did not do this.

What would removal from office mean for Trump?


U.S. presidents are limited to two terms each, but there’s little to stop a one-term president from running again four years after a defeat, as Grover Cleveland did successfully in the 1890s. One thing that could stop Mr. Trump from doing this is removal through impeachment. The Senate wouldn’t even necessarily have to convict Mr. Trump to do this: After voting on the impeachment, they can hold a disqualification vote that would bar him from future office.


Removal through impeachment would be a small but significant blow to Mr. Trump’s finances because it’d disqualify him from the pension, health insurance and office and security budgets that ex-presidents are entitled to.


For Mr. Biden, who’s taking power with a message of bipartisanship and healing divisions, the longer-term benefit of either impeachment or a 25th-Amendement process would be to show Democrats and Republicans working together after years of seeing each other as intractable enemies. This is one reason why Mr. Biden is largely staying out of discussions about whether to impeach Mr. Trump, saying that “what the Congress decides to do is for them to decide.”

The Globe and Mail, January 14, 2021