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What The House Vote On The 25th Amendment Says About Impeachment

Virtually all congressional Democrats and even some Republicans have condemned President Trump’s incitement of the insurrection at the Capitol. Virtually all congressional Democrats and even some Republicans appear to want Trump out of office as soon as possible. The U.S. House of Representative seems likely, this week, to impeach Trump for a second time, with at least five Republicans likely to vote in favor of it. Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as first reported by the New York Times and then confirmed by ABC News, say McConnell believes that Trump committed impeachable offenses and supports Democrats moving forward on impeachment.

Where does all that leave us? It’s complicated. It still seems fairly likely that Trump will remain in office until Jan. 20, with the House impeaching Trump on a mostly party-line vote but the Senate not taking up impeachment before Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Still, we’ll have to wait to see how it all unfolds to know for sure. Either way, we do know that one big step in this process occurred on Tuesday night: The House adopted a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the remaining members of Trump’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from the presidency.

This vote was historic — the House has voted to impeach three presidents (including Trump), but never before formally suggested that the president be removed by his Cabinet. At the same time, the vote has no real impact. Pence said in a letter to Pelosi released before the vote that he and the Cabinet will not try to force Trump from office via the 25th Amendment. So Tuesday’s vote was really only a prelude to a separate vote on Trump’s impeachment, which could come as soon as Wednesday. House Democrats have promised they will move to impeach Trump, for the second time, if the Cabinet does not remove him.

Tuesday night’s vote on the 25th Amendment resolution, while symbolic, does help us understand some dynamics within the two parties — particularly if you consider it alongside last week’s votes on whether to certify the results of the November election. Here are four things we’ve learned …

Most House Republicans are still strongly aligning with Trump.

Only 83 of the 204 House Republicans who participated in the vote opposed the effort last week to effectively disqualify the presidential votes in Arizona. Only 64 of the 202 House Republicans who participated in the vote opposed the effort to disqualify the electoral results in Pennsylvania. In other words, a clear majority of House Republicans voted to bar the presidential results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, joining with Trump’s effort to disqualify the votes of swing states where he narrowly lost. And these were votes held after Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

On Tuesday night, the number of House Republicans who were willing to call for Trump to be pushed out of office was even lower — just one, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, supported the resolution calling for Trump’s removal. There may be some Republicans who vote for impeachment but not the 25th Amendment resolution (more on that below). But it seems likely that the overwhelming majority of Republicans will oppose any effort to remove Trump from office, no matter the method.

The upcoming impeachment vote will be the fourth vote in the span of a week that is effectively a proxy for how loyal a House Republican is to Trump and strongly pro-Trump voters. And it appears that most House Republicans will take Trump’s side all four times despite an attack on the Capitol that was inspired in part by Trump’s words, resulted in the deaths of five people, and easily could have resulted in members of Congress and even Pence being killed.

It’s worth noting that the strong support for Trump among Republicans in the House may not be shared in the Senate. Only eight of the 51 Republicans in the Senate supported the efforts to contest the results in either Arizona, Pennsylvania or both states. Unlike McConnell, allies of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, have not suggested that McCarthy is open to Trump’s impeachment. That said, it’s not clear that a lot of Senate Republicans support invoking the 25th Amendment or trying to impeach and remove Trump either. (More on that in a minute).

There was a big difference between affirming Biden’s victory and calling for Trump to be removed.

The 63 House Republican members who affirmed the electoral results in both Arizona and Pennsylvania were from across the ideological and geographic spectrum — some were fairly moderate members from more liberal-leaning areas, such as Rep. John Katko of New York, but some were also conservatives from more right-wing areas, most notably the No. 3 Republican in the party’s leadership, Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

But voting to remove Trump appears to be a bridge too far, even for these Republicans. Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Katko and Cheney have indicated that they will support impeachment, even though they didn’t also back the 25th Amendment process like Kinzinger did. But overall, there is little indication that most of these 63 members will vote for impeachment.

Impeachment in the House doesn’t really need Republican votes, since Democrats are in the majority and they are likely to be universally behind impeachment. But this House sentiment may be an indication of things in the Senate too …

It’s not exactly clear what Senate Republicans will do.

McConnell, while floating the idea that he is frustrated with Trump, has also suggested that the Senate can’t really start an impeachment trial until Jan 19, according to a memo he sent to Republican senators that was obtained by the Washington Post. If the Senate really wanted to push out Trump immediately, I think they would figure out a way to do it. What’s more likely is that McConnell wants to publicly get out the message that he personally is mad at Trump but not necessarily require Republican senators to go on the record with a vote. Remember that McConnell just won a six-year term in 2020 and is 78 years old. He probably isn’t that worried about being cast as insuffienciently pro-Trump and losing a Republican primary in 2026 if he decided to run for another term at age 84. But younger Republican senators, those with presidential ambitions and/or those coming up for reelection next year may want to avoid a vote either defending Trump or removing him from office.

So it’s not clear McConnell would move towards a vote before Jan 20. There is not yet a clamoring of GOP senators urging the Senate to meet immediately after the House impeaches Trump, nor is it clear that there are anywhere close to the 18 GOP senators that would be needed to remove him from office. So unless something dramatically changes, in terms of the posture of GOP senators, Trump is likely to remain in office on Jan. 20

By the end of this month, with a 50-50 Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer will be the majority leader. There is little precedent for this, but some legal experts say that the Senate could, in a two-thirds vote, convict Trump of the impeachment charges, even if he is out of office. Then, with a simple majority, the Senate could vote to disqualify Trump from holding any office again. But I should emphasize: We have no idea if any of that will happen. With Trump out of office, would Democrats, particularly Biden, be eager to focus on the Democrats’ policy agenda, as opposed to trying to punish Trump? Would Republicans in the Senate go along with trying to convict Trump and disqualify him from running for office again? Would a disqualification of Trump from holding other offices stand up against legal challenges?

Democrats are rebuking Trump like no other president has been rebuked.

All of the 222 congressional Democrats who participated in the vote on Tuesday supported invoking the 25th Amendment. Impeachment is also likely to be a unanimous vote among Democrats. This is not surprising — in 2019, all but three of the 232 House Democrats backed Trump’s impeachment over his scheme to force the Ukranian government to investigate the Bidens. There has been some turnover in terms of members, but the overwhelming majority of House Democrats have already tried to force Trump out of office and probably feel comfortable casting such votes again, particularly in light of last week’s terrible incident at the Capitol.

Combining today’s 25th Amendment resolution with the 2019 impeachment, Democrats have ensured that Trump will have been rebuked by the House of Representatives in a way that no previous president has: Both impeached and urged to be removed from office by the president’s Cabinet. No president has been impeached in two separate instances (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached on multiple articles, but in the same series of House votes). House Democrats are almost certain to make Trump the first this week.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.