- Starting the week of January 21, the Senate will hold a historic trial in January to determine whether to remove President Donald Trump from office.
- Given the current partisan makeup of the Senate, it’s unlikely that Trump will be convicted and removed from office, something that requires the vote of 67 senators.
- In the improbable event that Trump is removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would take over the office of the presidency because of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment.
- Under the Presidential Succession Act, the vice president is followed in the line of succession by the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate.
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On December 18, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Now, whether the charges stick is in the hands of the Senate. The constitutional mechanism for the impeachment of a federal officer – including presidents, vice presidents, and federal judges – is laid out in Article 2, Section 4, which says that “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Given the current partisan makeup of the Senate, it’s highly unlikely that Trump will be convicted and removed from office, which requires a two-thirds majority vote of 67 senators. The Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats.
In the improbable event that Trump is removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would take over the office of the presidency because of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which stipulates that “in case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”
If for some reason the vice president doesn’t take over, Nancy Pelosi would take the Oval Office
Under the Presidential Succession Act, passed in 1947 and amended in 2006, the vice president is the first in the line of succession to the presidency, followed by the speaker of the House (currently Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi) and the president pro tempore of the Senate (GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley).
After those three officials are the Cabinet officials. The secretary of state is fourth in the line of succession, followed by the secretary of the Treasury, the secretary of defense, and the attorney general, with the secretary of homeland security – the most recently created department – in the last place.
This ordering of Cabinet officials is why at every State of the Union, one secretary is the “designated survivor” who does not attend the speech in the Capitol, to ensure that someone in the presidential line of succession is safe in the event that the Capitol is bombed, for example.
The presidential line of succession is also affected by whether the members of Congress or Cabinet officials in it are eligible for the presidency. Under Article 2, Section 1 of the US Constitution, someone must be at least 35 years old and a “natural-born” US citizen who has lived in the country for at least 14 years to serve as president.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, for example, is not in the line of presidential succession because she was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents who were not US citizens.
The Senate has never voted to convict and remove a US president from office in American history. The last two presidents to be impeached by the House, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, were both acquitted by the Senate.