On Sunday, America heard a recording of a phone call in which President Trump pressured Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to reverse that state’s presidential election result. Some say we should focus on moving forward and putting this presidency in the rearview forever. But for the survival of our constitutional democracy, Congress must impeach him again — and, this time, disqualify him from future federal office.
It hasn’t been even a year since the Senate failed to convict Trump on an earlier effort to subvert the 2020 election. After Trump improperly pressured the president of Ukraine to announce phony investigations into Joe Biden’s family, and then obstructed a congressional investigation, the House passed two narrow articles of impeachment. Unfortunately, the Senate protected Trump from the consequences of his actions. Explaining her vote to acquit, Senator Susan Collins of Maine offered that Trump had learned “a pretty big lesson” and would be “much more cautious in the future.”
So much for that. Trump is talking about running again in 2024, with the encouragement of Senate leaders. Under the Constitution, a defeated former president can try later for another term. After President Grover Cleveland lost reelection to Benjamin Harrison, he won a rematch four years later. But Cleveland wasn’t a criminal or would-be autocrat who repeatedly attempted to delegitimize our democracy during his first term. And although Trump faces serious federal and state criminal liability, even incarceration wouldn’t bar him from running for office — in 1920, Eugene Debs, despite serving in federal prison for speaking out against World War I, won 3.4 percent of the presidential vote.
Trump has proved that he should not be allowed anywhere near public office. To secure our fragile democracy, Congress must impeach Trump again — and this time, get it right. The Constitution provides that judgment of impeachment may include “disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Under longstanding precedent, the Senate can exercise this power — first used in 1862 to disqualify a judge who had joined the Confederacy — by a simple majority vote after an initial two-thirds vote to convict him of an impeachable offense.
The first article of impeachment is obvious. Trump’s full-court press on Raffensperger almost certainly violates federal and state criminal law. But most important, it subverts the very idea of constitutional democracy for the president of the United States to demand that a state official cheat voters out of a free and fair election.
But Congress shouldn’t stop there. The House’s narrow articles of impeachment in 2019 omitted over a dozen other impeachable offenses, including unconstitutionally profiting from emoluments from foreign governments and US taxpayers; directing law enforcement to investigate and prosecute his political adversaries; and cruelly and unconstitutionally imprisoning children and their families with his “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. And that was before Trump spent 2020 sabotaging the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, undermining the legitimacy of elections, and endangering our unbroken history of peaceful transfers of power.
The point of impeaching again isn’t to remove Trump from office; the voters did that. Nor is it to punish him — as Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted in 1833, impeachment “is not so much designed to punish an offender, as to secure the state.” And we need to secure the state from this man. A renewed impeachment would also put Congress in a stronger position to challenge a potential presidential self-pardon.
The House may not be eager to impeach Trump again, and we entertain no illusions about the Senate convicting him before Jan. 20. But as the National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explained in 2016, “the Constitution does not limit impeachment to incumbent officials.” Rather, impeachment also applies to “former officials who might seek to wield power again.” For example, in 1876 the House impeached William Belknap, the secretary of war, for taking bribes. Belknap resigned minutes before the House voted, hoping to stave off impeachment. But the House voted unanimously to impeach him anyway. At trial, Senators voted 37-29 that Belknap (now a private citizen) was “amenable to trial by impeachment for acts done as Secretary of War, notwithstanding his resignation of said office.” The Senate conducted a full impeachment trial, with testimony from more than 40 witnesses. Ultimately, a majority, but not two-thirds, voted to convict.
But unlike Belknap, Trump won’t return quietly to private life. He’ll spend the next four years claiming to be a president in exile who was deposed in a coup. He’ll destabilize and delegitimize federal and state governments and incite political violence against his enemies.
For now, America has pulled through. The voters have spoken, and Trump will soon be out of office. But after he spent his entire first term enriching himself, abusing the office of the president of the United States, and undermining our system of government, we can’t risk a sequel. The Constitution provides the remedy; Congress must use it.
Ben Clements is a former federal prosecutor, former chief legal counsel to the governor of Massachusetts, and chair of Free Speech for People. John Bonifaz is cofounder and president of Free Speech for People. Ron Fein is legal director of Free Speech for People. They are the authors of “The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.”