Donald Trump’s four-year term as president ends on Jan. 20 at noon. That’s not soon enough for some in Congress, who have initiated an unprecedented second effort to impeach him, one year after the U.S. Senate acquitted him of House charges in his first impeachment. This time around, forcing Trump to leave office might not be the most important goal.
1. What would be the point, then?
Some Democrats say Trump must be impeached to hold him accountable for his role encouraging his supporters who participated in the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. More tangibly, Trump has made noises about running for the presidency again in 2024, a prospect that alarms many Democrats and complicates the ambitions of other Republicans who envision themselves in the Oval Office. Should he be impeached (again) by the House, and convicted (this time) by the required two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, senators could also vote to disqualify him from serving in future federal office, which would take only a simple majority. (Article 1 of the Constitution says impeachment judgments can include “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”)
2. Has disqualification ever happened?
The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times, according to its historian’s office, and voted to impeach 20 individuals — 15 federal judges, one senator, one cabinet secretary and three presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Trump in 2019). Of that group, eight judges were convicted and removed from office by the Senate. Three of the judges were also disqualified from holding office again. The last instance was in 2010, involving Thomas Porteous, a federal judge in New Orleans who was accused of taking cash and bribes from lawyers and bail bondsmen with cases before his court, making false statements in declaring personal bankruptcy, and lying to the Senate during his confirmation.