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OPINION

Impeach the president again

Removal from office wouldn’t be the goal this time. It would be to prevent Trump from running again.

House impeachment managers walked to the Senate floor with carts of documents for President Trump's trial last January.
House impeachment managers walked to the Senate floor with carts of documents for President Trump's trial last January.Pete Marovich/The New York Times

The president of the United States is trying to subvert the will of the American people and steal an election he lost by 6 million votes.

It is bad enough that President Trump has thrown a nearly two-week-long temper tantrum about the results, is propagating delusional, evidence-free fantasies about election fraud, and has lost every spurious lawsuit he has filed in a desperate effort to keep a job he’s not even bothering to perform. He is now openly trying to pressure Republican state legislators in Michigan, Georgia, and elsewhere to hand him the presidency.

On Friday at the White House, Trump hosted two Republican lawmakers from Michigan, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader in the state senate, in what appears to be a transparent effort to convince them to ignore the election results and certify him as the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. This came only days after he phoned a GOP election official on the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, who then tried to rescind her certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the county.

None of Trump’s flailing maneuvers are likely to succeed. But that does not make them any less insidious.

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Recent polling suggests that Trump’s supporters are not dismissing his arguments but accepting them. According to a YouGov poll this week, 88 percent of Republican voters believe that Biden’s victory is illegitimate. A Monmouth University poll shows 77 percent of Trump’s supporters believe Biden’s win was the result of fraud. Across the country, state election officials — both Republicans and Democrats — are being deluged by death threats. It was already going to be difficult enough for Biden to bring the country together, but now Trump is making things that much more difficult with the political wreckage he is leaving behind.

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If ever a presidential act qualified for impeachment, it would be openly trying to reverse an election outcome. While it sounds almost bizarre to make such a suggestion when the president’s term is over in two months, the move would have a useful byproduct: The Senate could prevent Trump from running again in 2024.

The impeachment clause of the Constitution allows the Senate to impose two possible punishments: “removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” While two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal from office in an impeachment trial, precedents involving the impeachment of judges indicate that only a majority vote would be required to make the penalty a disqualification from future office.



In other words, the House of Representatives could impeach Trump before his term ends, and the Senate could take up the matter after he leaves office. The question of removal would be moot at that point, but disqualification would still be on the table, and the Senate could determine that a majority vote would suffice.

Is there any question that Trump’s actions over the past two weeks would merit such an action? As Utah Senator Mitt Romney tweeted, “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic act by a sitting American president.”

It might be equally hard to imagine many more Republicans joining in the condemnation, but it could be in their long-term political interest. While congressional Republicans may have benefited in this election from having Trump on the ticket, the grievances he is nursing will likely be used to justify another run for office in four years, which means that Trump’s hold over the GOP will not end on Jan. 20. Instead, it might actually grow stronger.

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As unlikely as another impeachment might be, America’s elected leaders have in their hands the constitutional tools for preventing Trump from continuing to wreak havoc on our national politics. They had those means last February when they chose to acquit him on impeachment charges, and they have those means today. Just because it would be difficult and politically toxic in the short run doesn’t mean they shouldn’t use them.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.