WASHINGTON, D.C. — After hours of debate on Wednesday, the U.S. House-- with 10 Republicans joining Democrats--voted in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump for a second time. This time in connection with the insurrection at the Capitol.
"We are debating this historic measure at an actual crime scene,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, “and we wouldn't be here if it weren't for the President of United States."
The articles of impeachment now move to the Senate, which could take them up after President Trump leaves office. However, the question remains: can you be removed from office even after you’ve already left?
“It's not a question that's ever been addressed by The Supreme Court,” said Caroline Fredrickson, a visiting professor at Georgetown Law and a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “There have been a few officials who have been impeached subsequent to leaving office. So, there is a precedent for having done it. Neither of those or none of those officials, however, were the president.”
Yet, if the Senate votes in favor of removing President Trump from office, is there a possibility that he could pardon himself?
Fredrickson said that is something the Supreme Court has never addressed, either, but is not likely.
“I think the strength of the argument is that ‘No, he may not.’ The pardon power may be very broad, but it's framed as a grant, you grant a pardon,” she said. “The president may grant a pardon and one doesn't grant oneself something.”
Even if the Senate votes for removal - and that’s a big if - it doesn’t automatically bar President Trump from seeking future federal office.
“The Senate would have to convict and then vote again to permanently bar the President from holding office,” Fredrickson said.
That could also potentially involve stripping him of post-presidency benefits, such as Secret Service protection or lifetime health care, which would require yet another Senate vote. All are part of steps that would be part of a lengthy process, but one that was set up more than two centuries ago.
“It's a moment for us to really take stock of our democracy and assess where it's weak and where we need to strengthen it,” Fredrickson.
Even if the president is not convicted in the Senate, Congress could potentially vote to bar President Trump from holding future office, under section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
It is applied to people who have encouraged insurrection against the government and was put in place mainly as a way to bar Confederates who sought office after the Civil War. It has only been used once back in 1919.