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N.C. political science, law experts break down impeachment, 25th Amendment

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 8:59 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Following the deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a growing number of lawmakers are calling for President Donald Trump’s removal by impeachment or by invoking the 25th Amendment.

Democrats laid plans on Friday for impeaching President Trump.

The two processes are separate, formal and constitutional according to UNC law professor Theodore M. Shaw.

“They are both very weighty procedures,” Shaw said. “We’re talking about removing a President of the United States. That’s serious.”

One process can be quicker than the other but it depends on a number of factors, including the actions of Congress, the Vice President and Cabinet members which as of Friday, at least two have resigned.

Here’s a breakdown of the two processes:

Impeachment

If lawmakers vote to impeach President Trump, he would be the first president to be impeached twice.

“There are so many ways in which this presidency is norm-breaking,” Shaw said.

A majority of the House would have to vote to impeach President Trump and then two-thirds of the Senate would have to approve.

Democrats have control over the House, while Republicans still control the Senate until the two Democrats who won in Georgia are sworn in.

ECU political science professor Brad Lockerbie said the impeachment process could be “speedier,” given the circumstance.

“The House is evenly divided right now, but the Democrats do have a majority and the number of Republicans [lawmakers] are quite upset with President Trump,” Lockerbie said. “For some Republicans [senators] who tolerated him before, I think this is a bridge too far, so to speak.”

Congress can make their own rules on impeachments and trials.

Although theoretically, the impeachment process can be quicker, Shaw said it depends on whether or not some members of the president’s own party and his own appointees would agree to do this.

“And there are other things that have to happen that take a little bit of time,” Shaw said. “And of course we are almost at the end of the administration.”

Shaw said the impeachment is a “very politically divisive mechanism as we saw last year.”

“Even if he’s impeached, then the question is “Is there a trial in the Senate? Will he be removed after being convicted?” And we know that’s highly unlikely in this circumstance, plus the time it would take to get to a trial.”

Invoking the 25th Amendment

Under the 25th Amendment, if the vice president and cabinet members declare the president is unable to carry out his duties, then the vice president becomes the acting president, Shaw said.

“So there’s going to be a president no matter what [process occurs].”

The president can dispute the claim, which both Shaw and Lockerbie said is likely and Congress would have to vote to approve the Constitutional Amendment 25 process of simply putting the president aside and having the vice president act as president, Lockerbie said.

“Vice President Pence would simply have the responsibilities of President [Trump], he [President Trump] wouldn’t be kicked out of office,” Lockerbie said. “An impeachment would kick him out of office if he were impeached and convicted.”

Shaw said Congress would have to figure out the details of “when, where and how,” it’s going to take place.

“Removal of a president under the 25th Amendment, we haven’t seen that yet,” Shaw said.

Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) released a statement on Friday opposing calls for Trump’s removal.

“The lawlessness the world witnessed at the Capitol on Wednesday was an utter embarrassment to the United States of America,” Murphy said. “Those who participated in the riot should be held responsible and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Thankfully, President Trump has committed to a peaceful transition of power. He spoke to the nation last night asking for peace and unity and support of the new administration. Speaker Pelosi’s intention to prematurely remove him from office is an unnecessary and partisan act which will only further divide our nation. I will oppose any such efforts to remove the president prior to the inauguration on January 20th.”

After discussing both processes, Shaw said it’s unclear what the outcome will be.

“The wisdom of doing something is debatable, on the other hand, the wisdom of doing nothing is debatable.

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