In the wake of the violence at the Capitol on January 6th, when rioters and insurrectionists wearing Trump gear stormed the building, overwhelmed security, and threatened the safety of numerous government officials, the Democrats issued an ultimatum of sorts.
Either Vice President Mike Pence would invoke the 25th Amendment declaring President Trump unfit to fulfill his duties as President or President Trump would face a second impeachment.
As questions swirled about the circumstances surrounding the security breach, and evidence began piling up that things were not as simple as they appeared on televisions across the US, Vice President Mike Pence declined to bow to the pressure, and Democratic kingpin Nancy Pelosi proceeded with the latter.
A single article of impeachment was presented to the House of Representatives, charging President Trump with Inciting an Insurrection on January 11th. The next step is to present it to the Senate where it will face a tough challenge, requiring a 2/3 majority to pass.
The Senate, however, does not reconvene until January 19th, giving them only one day to act before President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn in. So why bother to impeach a sitting President days before his term ends? Why not simply wait until January 20th and allow the transition of power to remove President Trump organically?
The Democrats have a long term strategy.
The first option they offered, was for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment- an amendment championed by Pelosi herself, which allows for the removal of a President deemed medically or psychologically unfit to perform the duties as President.
Had Pence taken this course of action, President Trump would have avoided a historic second impeachment, but, having previously been declared unfit, would likely be ineligible for reelection.
Given the fact that President Trump would very likely seek a second term in 2024, this outcome would be the best-case scenario for Democrats. Democrats, however, had to know it was a long shot, and that President Trump would likely not jeopardize his eligibility to seek a second term.
Impeachment, however, offered multiple beneficial avenues to pursue for Democrats. The first of which was simple optics. The stain of being impeached for a second time could be enough to dissuade voters from reelecting President Trump, should he run again in 2024.
Indeed, it could be enough to dissuade the Republican Party from nominating him in the next election cycle. The impeachment itself is a character assassination and smear campaign meant to prevent what the Democrats would consider their biggest competitor from throwing his hat in the ring in the next election.
Given the strong following and energized base the President enjoys, though, this is far from a certainty, which is why the Democrats are looking to impeach President Trump even after the transition of power.
This approach is problematic simply because the language governing this action is ambiguous at best. Impeachment of a private citizen isn’t provided for, and President Trump becomes Mr. Trump just 24 hours after the Senate is due to return. In 1876, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached after he left office, giving the Democrats a precedent to point to, should they attempt to pursue the matter after the transition of power, which seems likely.
The obvious objective here, regardless of its legality, is to again find a way to preclude a second bid at a Trump presidency. Should the unlikely outcome of the Senate upholding the impeachment actually come to pass, President Trump could be disqualified from holding federal office in the future by a simple majority vote. With the Democrats enjoying a 50/50 split following this election cycle, and Kamala Harris holding the deciding vote, this will be a much easier task after Trump leaves office.
The possibility remains open that Democrats, having just regained the power, will shy away from the media attention and division that will likely follow an impeachment proceeding in the first days of a Biden Presidency.
Undoubtedly, Nancy Pelosi will push for impeachment but may find that her fellow Democrats would rather the attention remain squarely on the new regime, rather than rehashing the perceived missteps of the last one.
The idea that Republicans, who have endured the smear campaigns and political divisiveness that come with the impeachment process, could simply give the Democrats a dose of their own medicine is likely not lost on the Democrats either, and they may be more apt to distance themselves from the notion as soon as they take office on the 20th.