The Senate is on the cusp of the historic second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
On Monday, the House delivered its article of impeachment to the Senate. On Tuesday, the members of the House who will act as trial lawyers will be sworn in, with the trial set to begin Feb. 8.
The question is straightforward — the sole article of impeachment alleges that Trump incited an insurrection. We all saw the insurrection play out live on television, computer and phone screens across the country. We all saw our elected officials wearing gas masks and sheltering in place in the people’s house, the Capitol. We all saw the speech Trump gave moments before the insurrection. We have likely all made up our minds already whether Trump’s behavior rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
But while the facts feel relatively clear, the next two weeks give Trump and his GOP allies a chance to strategize. And a primary Republican defense is already taking shape: that the Senate lacks the constitutional power to hold the trial because Trump is no longer in office.
“Our members, irrespective of what they might think about the merits, just believe that this is an exercise that really isn’t grounded constitutionally and, from a practical standpoint, just makes no sense,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told Politico.
This is a demonstrably weak argument. The Senate not only has the constitutional right to try Trump; it has a constitutional duty to do so.
Let us start with the text of the Constitution itself. Article II, Section 4 provides that the president and other federal officials subject to the clause can be impeached for treason, bribery or “other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This is no less true if the impeachable offense occurs at the end of a president’s term or right before a president were to resign. In fact, in this case, it may be even more urgent to impeach and convict Trump because his alleged actions — working to overturn a free and fair election — threaten the integrity of any democracy’s primary way of getting rid of officials: elections.
(editors note) The actual text of the part of the US Constitution that covers impeachment is as follows as quoted from The National Constitution Center:
“Article II, Section 4
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”