Thursday, January 14, 2021 : By John Wesley Reid
President Trump is now the first president to have ever been impeached twice. On Wednesday, Jan 13, the House of Representatives voted 232-197, with Democrats voting unanimously joined by 10 Republicans. This has many asking whether a second impeachment impacts a president’s post-office benefits.
A viral tweet that has since been deleted prompted a discussion on whether a second impeachment compromises a president’s post-office benefits and services:
“For those wondering if it’s worth impeaching him this time, it means he 1) loses his 200k+ pension for the rest of his life 2) loses his 1 million dollar/year travel allowance 3) loses lifetime full secret service detail 4) loses his ability to run in 2024.”
The tweet is not accurate. It appears the author of the tweet misconstrued impeachment and removal.
The benefits listed in the tweet are not impacted by impeachment alone, but rather by a Senate removal. Even then, the fourth item on the list is not true, but more on that later. While impeachment hearings are conducted in the House of Representatives, removal from office requires a Senate trial and subsequent two-thirds (67) majority vote. This is helpful information for the dialogue at hand.
Former Presidents Act
According to 3 USC § 102, the “Former Presidents Act,” all former presidents are entitled to the benefits and services listed in the Act under the conditions that the President:
The second point answers the question as to whether an impeachment will cost Trump his benefits and maybe his security. In the matter of termination, the only exclusion listed is by removal pursuant to section 4, article II of the Constitution, which annotates the process for impeachment and removal.
Trump will not lose his benefits if the Senate does not vote to remove him from office. The likelihood of a Senate removal before Trump’s term expires on January 20 is basically null. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return to Washington until January 19 and all 100 Senators would have to agree to return to session early, which is unlikely. Removal would also require the vote of 67 Senators, which is also very unlikely.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, said,
“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week … The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively.”
An interesting note about Secret Service protection
While the Former Presidents Act defines “former president” as one who has not been removed from office, a separate law passed by President Barack Obama indicates that Trump might not lose Secret Service protection even if he is removed from office by the Senate. In 2012, Obama signed the “Former Presidents Protection Act,” which does not define “former president” and thus does not exclude presidents removed by the Senate from receiving Secret Service protection. In the unlikely event that Trump is removed, it would likely be up to the courts to decide if he should receive Secret Service protection.
On the subject of Secret Service protection, it is in the best interest of the American people that a president has security for the rest of their lives, including for their spouses. Regardless of political views, U.S. citizens should want protection for former presidents since they have been made privy to extremely sensitive information vital to national security and could be abducted and forced to divulge this information, which could compromise the safety of America.
Does a second impeachment bar Trump from running again?
The fact is, other than having multiple impeachments on his record that could hurt a future bid for office, a second impeachment (or third or fourth) doesn’t practically impact a president. In fact, even if the Senate convened early, tried, convicted, and voted to remove Trump from office, that would not bar him from running again. To prohibit a president from running for office again would require a separate vote.
With a bicameral simple majority vote, Congress could invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and argue that Trump has disqualified himself from future office due to engagement with insurrection.
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
As the last line states, a future Congress may reverse the disqualification vote but would require a two-thirds majority to do so, making it improbable if Trump wanted to depend on a future Congress to support him. However, there are two reasons Democrats should be wary of such an invocation. First, measures like this set a precedent, and extreme measures taken by a Democrat-controlled Congress might instigate future Republican majorities to invoke the same measures that, for the most part, have been left off the table as weapons against their colleagues.
Second, Democrats should be cautious about taking this path because while Trump is not likely to be redeemed by a bicameral two-thirds majority anytime soon, Trump could challenge their claims of insurrection in court. Trump is alleged to have incited the attacks at the Capitol on January 6, with a speech he delivered that morning. But there are two challenges with these allegations.
First, the language of his speech such as “fight and fight hard” can easily be seen as figurative, especially considering that he also told the crowd to “cheer congress on” and to be “peaceful and patriotic” before they marched from the White House to the Capitol.
Second, the timeline of events calls into question whether Trump’s message caused the attacks. Trump’s speech was outside the White House, which is where the crowd was before they began the nearly two-mile march to the Capitol building. But the attacks at the Capitol began while Trump was speaking — again, nearly two miles away.