Do Republicans Want Democrats to Help Them Banish Trump from Politics?

Mitch McConnell may use the impeachment trial as justification for banishing Trump from politics forever

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Wednesday, President Donald Trump was impeached for the second time this year, becoming the first president to be impeached twice.

Earlier this week, House Democrats pushed forward with their plan to remove Trump, approving a resolution urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote. The resolution passed by a 223–205 vote. 

Democrats proceeded with their resolution even though Pence, who met with Trump this week for the first time since the mob attack, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi informing her of his decision not to invoke the 25th Amendment.

The political pundits reacted swiftly to Pence’s decision. On its face, Pence’s failure to push for the 25 Amendment gave the appearance that he buckled to pressure from Trump. Cable news shows were at a loss to explain Pense’s continued subservience to Trump. 

Pence has good reason to want Trump gone sooner rather than later. After all, Trump is responsible for whipping up the insurgent mob that breached the Capitol  — putting Pence and his family in mortal danger in the process —  less than a week ago. 

So why didn’t Pence seize upon the opportunity to push Trump out of office? Perhaps our assumptions about the meeting are wrong. Pence’s rejection of the 25th Amendment may be part of a broader Republican strategy.

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The 25th Amendment

Under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President and a majority of Cabinet members can declare the President unfit to carry out his office's duties and transfer presidential responsibilities to the Vice President. 

Section 4 of the amendment allows for the vice president to assume the president’s duties if the vice president and the majority of the cabinet determine that the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Up until now, that section of the amendment has never been invoked.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Pence, because of his own Presidential aspirations, does not want to anger the Republican (read: Trump) base. But perhaps there is another reason. While enacting the 25th Amendment — or resignation — removes Trump immediately, it does not prohibit him from a 2024 presidential run. 

The one thing we know about Mitch McConnell is that he plays the long game. Every move he makes is with a view down the road. Although his status as majority leader ends next week, McConnell will still have an outsized influence on the Senate’s Republican conference.

By any measure, McConnell has played Trump like a fiddle. He got his tax cuts, dozens of conservative court judges, and three seats on the Supreme Court. There is no love lost between Trump and the Senate Republican Conference, so they will be more than happy to see him go for good. 

Also, the impeachment trial is different this time. Unlike the Ukraine scandal, this trial comes as a result of an attack on a co-equal branch of government that put the lives of every single person in the Capitol on January 6 in danger. 

But despite inciting an insurgent attack that nearly became a mass casualty event, Trump is still immensely popular among Republicans. That said, he leaves office with a job approval rating of just 29%, the lowest of his presidency, according to a Pew Research survey released this week.

Even worse for Trump, 68% of the public does not want him to remain a significant political figure in the future, according to Pew. Still, Trump has hinted at a 2024 run on numerous occasions, so he can make things difficult for Pence or other GOP presidential hopefuls.

The combination of bad polling and a looming Trump candidacy may be all the ammunition McConnell needs to convince Senate Republicans to cut Trump loose once and for all.

“When you come for the king, you best not miss.”

The sequence of events by Republican leadership this week may signal a coordinated strategy that could keep Trump from running for president again.

First, Pence took the possibility of the 25th Amendment off the table. Before he decided, Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (who is also McConnell’s wife) announced their resignations, throwing a monkey-wrench into his ability to invoke the 25th Amendment. 

Around the same time, Liz Cheney, who is ranked third in House Republican leadership, announced she would vote to impeach in a scathing statement

“Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President.”

Finally, McConnell signaled his openness publicly to Trump’s conviction. In a letter to his colleagues, he said he hasn’t ruled out voting to convict Trump in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. 

Unlike the first impeachment trial earlier this year, Trump is a much weaker president. This time, more members of the president’s party voted for impeachment and at any other time in history.

The 14th Amendment 

If McConnell’s goal is to remove Trump as a future political threat, he cannot accomplish that with an impeachment conviction alone. 

According to the Constitution, there are two ways to punish an impeached official: removal from office or ‘disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.’ 

The Constitution requires a two-thirds Senate majority for removal. Under congressional precedent, only a simple majority is needed for disqualification. But historically, that vote only happens after a conviction.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, however, provides an alternative mechanism for disqualification. Enacted following the Civil War to prevent Confederates from holding public office, the 14 Amendment states that no person shall hold office if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States. 

Trump was impeached by the House with a single article — “Incitement of Insurrection.”

Suppose McConnell wants to disqualify Trump from holding future office under the 14th Amendment. In that case, Democrats can do his dirty work, since they will hold the majority in the Senate, according to The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald:

“Ending Trump’s presidency under the 14th Amendment is probably impossible, scholars say, because there is no mechanism for removal in the provision. It could, however, be used to prevent Trump or other politicians who supported the attempted insurrection from holding office again. If Trump is impeached by the House, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict him in a trial that would be held after he leaves office. Using Section 3 of the 14th Amendment wouldn’t require a super-majority, historians noted, and wouldn’t complicate the start of Joe Biden’s presidency.”

So here’s the question: do Republicans in the Senate want to deal with a possible Trump candidacy in 2024?  In the final analysis, McConnell may determine that now is the time to remove Trump as an ongoing threat to the Republican Party—and the country. 

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