After he incited a mob of terrorists to storm the Capitol in a deadly day of horror, Democrats in Congress are moving to impeach President Donald Trump. This would make him the first president in history to be impeached twice. (He was previously impeached in 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — remember that?)
This time, Trump is facing just one article of impeachment: incitement of insurrection.
Democrats say that Trump’s months of lies regarding the election he lost — including at a rally on the morning of the coup attempt — encouraged his supporters to storm the Capitol. Some Republicans have already signaled support, but others say that punishing Trump is a political act that will create further divisions (This comes after they stoked division themselves by parroting Trump’s lies about the election.)
If a majority of House members vote to impeach him (i.e., indict him) as soon as Wednesday, the Senate will then hold a trial that, according to legal experts, can still take place even after Trump leaves office.
Unlike in his first trial, this time there is a greater chance of more Republican support for a possible conviction in the Senate. (Back then, Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican in Congress to support impeachment and only on one count.)
If two-thirds of senators find him guilty, he will be convicted and thrown out of office — a historic first for any president.
Even if Trump is convicted with only a few days left in his term, there are consequences that could go far beyond forcing him to give up the presidency earlier than expected. But if a conviction occurs after his term ends on Jan. 20, it could still have a meaningful impact on Trump, even though he could no longer be “removed” from office.
A lot of this is unprecedented and would probably end up in the courts, but here’s what might actually happen to Trump if he is convicted:
He may not be able to run for office again
If the Senate removes a president from office, it can then take another vote to disqualify them from ever running for office again. Only a simple majority would be needed to pass such a measure, which Democrats soon have thanks to the Georgia results.
This would strike a major blow to Trump, who has reportedly explored the idea of running for president again in 2024.
And it’s not just Democrats who may want to keep Trump from running again; some Republicans are furious at the Capitol attacks and want to move on from Trump’s control of their party, and several prominent Republicans are said to be mulling running in the next election. “Lots of people are looking with considerable anticipation as to whether or not he’s going to try to run for office again,” University of Chicago political scientist William Howell told BuzzFeed News
He *might* lose some benefits that ex-presidents typically enjoy
According to the Former Presidents Act, former presidents are paid a pension for the rest of their life “equal to the annual rate of basic pay … of the head of an executive department,” which in 2020 was $219,200.
A former president is also entitled to paid office staff and space anywhere in the US, and their surviving spouse is entitled to $20,000 per year.
However, the act applies only to presidents “whose service in such office shall have terminated other than by removal pursuant to section 4 of article II of the Constitution of the United States of America,” which is the section about impeachment.
But if Trump’s term ends naturally on Jan. 20 without him being convicted and removed, would that exclusion apply to him?
Legal opinions are split and it’s likely a court would need to decide.
“Obviously, it’s unchartered waters here,” University of Texas at Austin law professor Stephen I. Vladeck told BuzzFeed News. “I think arguments could be made both ways, but it seems difficult to argue that Congress intended to exclude from the statutory definition of ‘former President’ someone who is convicted by the Senate the day before his Term ends but not someone who is convicted the day after — all the more so if he’s also disqualified from holding future office.”
Others, like South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman, prefer a so-called plain reading of the statute.
“The statute uses the phrase ‘removal’ and not ‘convicted.’ If he is convicted after he leaves office, he cannot be removed,” Blackman told BuzzFeed News. “In that case, I think Trump would still be a ‘former president."
If Trump is convicted, it’s not unlikely that Congress would pass a law overriding the Former Presidents Act and explicitly stripping him of these benefits
He might lose Secret Service protection, but probably not
Whether or not Trump would lose taxpayer-funded security protection is also not clear.
Although the Former Presidents Act could arguably be read to exclude those who have been impeached and convicted, a 2013 law that covered Secret Service protection does not define “former Presidents.”
Again, we can’t say for sure how a court would resolve this question, but losing Secret Service protection doesn’t seem likely.
There would be damage to his political status and reputation
The biggest effects that a conviction might have on Trump would be the toll it would take on his political standing and on the future of the Republican Party, according to Howell, the University of Chicago political scientist.
“The Republican Party stands at a crossroads about whether or not it’s going to return to its previous commitments of limited government and low taxes and a robust defense, particularly against Russia, or whether it’s going to be the party of populism,” he said. “A world in which the first populist president is not only impeached twice but is convicted sends a very strong signal about which direction they should go.”
It would also send a message to future presidents about what behavior is and is not acceptable, he said.
“It’s about standing up for democracy and about shaping the expectations we have about appropriate presidential behavior,” said Howell.