U.S. in uncharted waters in unprecedented second impeachment of Trump

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan, Reuters

America will be in uncharted territory when the U.S. Senate meets as soon as next week for the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the first U.S. president both to be impeached a second time and to face trial by lawmakers after leaving office.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach Trump on charges of incitement after his supporters rampaged in the Capitol after the Republicans urged them in a speech to fight President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory. Trump falsely claims he lost due to widespread voting fraud.

In an emotional debate before the 232-197 vote, 10 Republicans joined the majority Democrats in supporting impeachment. Multiple Republicans defended Trump’s remarks as protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which defends free speech.

The swift impeachment, one week after the riot, is very unlikely to lead to Trump’s ouster before Biden takes office on Jan. 20. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected Democratic calls for a quick trial in the Republican-led Senate, saying there was no way to meet in time.

But even if he has left the White House, the Senate could convict Trump and then vote to ban him from running for office again.

Biden, a Democrat, has urged Senate leaders to avoid a trial during his first days in the White House so that they can focus on the economy, getting the coronavirus vaccine distribution program on track, and confirming crucial Cabinet nominees.

Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and a pair of U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia last week has delayed the confirmation of key appointments, which often occur before a new president is sworn in.

“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday.

Biden’s inauguration has been scaled back due to security concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic. The West Front of the Capitol building, where the swearing-in occurs, is now fortified by fencing, barriers, and thousands of National Guard troops.

The article of impeachment - equivalent to an indictment in a criminal trial - charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection” in his incendiary speech to thousands of supporters shortly before the riot. The mob disrupted Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory, sent lawmakers into hiding, and left five people dead, including a police officer.

Under the Constitution, impeachment in the House triggers a trial in the Senat