The US House of Representatives has voted once again to impeach Donald Trump, just days before the end of his term, making him the only president in American history to be impeached twice.
The resolution formally charged Mr Trump with “incitement of insurrection” after he encouraged a violent mob of his supporters to charge the Capitol building last week. Five people were killed as a result of the riot.
It passed the Democratic-controlled House 232 to 197, with 10 Republicans voting in favour of impeachment.
The next step of the two-part impeachment process is a trial in the Senate, which would usually rule on whether a sitting president is guilty of a “high crime or misdemeanour” and should be removed from office.
But given Mr Trump’s term is set to end on 20 January, the trial will almost definitely take place after he has left office.
How does the Senate trial work?
The US Constitution sets out that the Senate holds the sole power to try all impeachments, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding over the trial.
Similar to the President’s first impeachment trial in 2019, House members will present their case against Mr Trump and his legal team will respond on his behalf, with the Senators acting as jurors. The trial could involve testimony from witnesses and take up to six weeks.
A two-thirds majority of those present in the 100-member chamber is required to convict Mr Trump. Following the recent Senate run-off elections in Georgia, each party will have 50 Senators. This means at least 17 Republicans will have to vote alongside Democrats find Mr Trump guilty.
The US Senate has never ruled to convict a president and remove them from office.
When will it happen?
The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has ruled out reconvening the chamber before its scheduled restart on 19 January, one day before President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, stating that a “fair or serious” trial could not be conducted in such a short timeframe.
“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-Elect Biden is sworn in next week,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
There have been three previous impeachment trials in the United States’ history – Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1999 and President Trump in 2019 – which lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively.
This means the trial will almost definitely occur during Mr Biden’s presidency, but it is currently unclear when.
The start of a new administration is typically a busy time in Congress. The Senate will be juggling confirmation hearings for Mr Biden’s new cabinet nominees and the drafting of legislation related to the pandemic response.
Because of this, questions have been raised over whether the trial should be delayed by 100 days to allow the Biden administration to get on with urgent business. It’s also possible the trial could be conducted for only part of the day once the Senate resumes, allowing the chamber to get on with other work concurrently.
Decisions regarding the Senate’s schedule ultimately falls to the Senate Majority leader. Once the results of Georgia’s Senate runoff elections are certified, that will be Democrat Chuck Schumer.
Why would you impeach a former president?
While the main punishment for a guilty verdict in an impeachment trial is usually removal from office, it would also allow Senators to vote to strip Mr Trump of his six-figure pension and bar him from ever running for office again.
It is important to note that a guilty verdict would not automatically achieve these things, and would require a subsequent Senate vote.
The vote to bar Mr Trump from holding “any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States” would only require a simple majority of Senators to vote in favour. But, there is no precedent for this happening and any attempt may end up before the Supreme Court.
A guilty verdict would also send a clear message that Mr Trump’s actions in the lead up to the attack on the Capitol were unacceptable.