There is a certain logic in believing that if the first thing House Democrats do in their new term is impeach a soon-to-be-former president they already had impeached a year earlier, there could be political consequences.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton in the 1990s badly backfired on Republicans, after all. Clinton kept governing and began to earn public sympathy instead of becoming a pariah. The Republicans, it appeared, had overplayed their hand.
However, there is no evidence that the Clinton example is remotely relevant to the situation today. For one thing, President Trump will be gone and will not have the same bully pulpit to push back. (He doesn’t even have Twitter.) Second, there is wide bipartisan agreement that Trump was at least partially responsible for the Capitol insurrection. That’s House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s belief, the same person who voted to object to Biden’s Electoral College win. This is not even bringing up the reporting from multiple outlets that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses or the growing chorus of Republicans very comfortable talking about impeachment. Third, and possibly most important, there were zero political consequences for Democrats’ impeachment of Trump at the ballot box in 2020.
The first Trump impeachment sent Democrats and Republicans to their respective corners, reflecting the increasingly tribal nature of American politics. No House Republican voted to impeach. Only one Republican Senator, Mitt Romney, voted to remove Trump from office. Not even three months after the Senate trial, impeachment faded entirely from the political discussion. Sure, there was also a global pandemic going on, but that same global pandemic is still defining everyday life during what is shaping up to be a second impeachment process.
Even if one wants to push back and suggest that a second impeachment will be some kind of 2022 campaign issue for the House and Senate, there are bigger forces at play in that election a full two years from now than impeachment. Democrats will soon control the House, the Senate, and the White House. If history is any guide, they are about to get creamed in the midterm election anyway, whether they impeach or don’t.
In a way, the House has a free pass to impeach President Trump when they take up the matter on Wednesday. And it appears that at least a handful of Republicans will join them. There is, reportedly, even enough Republican support in the Senate to leave the question of conviction open.
Where it gets more complicated is what happens next. The Senate could wait to begin an impeachment trial until Jan. 19, unless all 100 senators agreed to start early. (Cue Josh Hawley.) Given that, senators wouldn’t have enough time to actually remove Trump from office before his term ends on Jan. 20. Further, there is concern among those working for Joe Biden that a Senate impeachment trial would waste time in Biden’s first days, often when a president is seen to have the most power during their term.
The Senate could address the situation now, offer up a hybrid of a Senate trial and work for the American people, or they could delay it for months.
But in terms of how the House votes on Wednesday, members can really do whatever they want.