The Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is underway. “Impeachment is unique. It is a political act, it is not the same as a civil or a criminal trial. So you have the Senate acting as, in some ways as judge and jury,” said Maurice Sheppard, a political scientist at Madison College.
If he’s convicted by the Senate of inciting insurrection for last month’s violent assault on the Capitol by a mob of his supporters, the former president will be barred from ever running for office again.
But that’s a big if. “It is a very high bar to clear,” Sheppard said. “The constitutional standard is that it has to be a supermajority. Two-thirds of the Senators present have to vote for conviction. In this case it would be 67, and the Democrats would need at least 17 Republicans to vote with them.”
A divided Senate voted 56 to 44 on Tuesday to proceed with the impeachment trial. Most Republicans, including Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, stood with Trump and his legal team, which contended the Senate cannot convict a person no longer in office.
There’s still some uncertainty about how long the trial might last. “The first . . . sort of take on it would be that the shorter the trial the better,” Sheppard said. “For Democrats, a short trial would mean that they can get back to the work of the people. For Republicans a short trial would mean that this ugly chapter in American history goes away quicker.”
But Sheppard said Republicans may want to slow the trial process, as a means of slowing down congressional work on Democratic initiatives which they oppose. “If they prolong it, that keeps President Biden and his administration and Democrats in the Senate from moving forward with their agenda. As harmful as that sounds, that might be a political play.”