When some Democrats were pushing for US President Donald Trump’s impeachment in early 2019, it took about five months for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to back the idea.
This time, it only took a day.
Pelosi came out strongly on Thursday in support of Trump’s removal – either by his own cabinet or by Congress, if necessary – after pro-Trump supporters violently breached and ransacked the Capitol.
The riots on Wednesday came after Trump egged on the crowd at a rally near the White House.
On Friday, Pelosi told fellow Democrats on a private conference call that “we must take action”.
A congressional effort to impeach Trump would be unlikely to remove him from the White House, which he will vacate on January 20 when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.
There is little chance the Republican-led Senate would hold a trial and vote on convicting Trump in less than two weeks.
Still, action by the House would make Trump the first president in history to be impeached twice. And it could include a ban on holding public office, ending Trump’s ability to run in 2024.
Here is a look at how impeachment works and what Congress can do in the short amount of time until Trump’s term ends:
Basics of impeachment
In normal order, there would be an impeachment investigation and the evidence would be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which would hold hearings, draft articles and send them to the full house.
That is what happened in 2019 when the House impeached Trump over his dealings with the president of Ukraine. It took three months.
This time – with so few days to move and a feeling among Democrats that there is little need to investigate what happened since most members of Congress were in the Capitol when the mob broke in – Pelosi would likely hold a floor vote with no hearings or committee action.
Once the House votes to impeach, the articles and evidence are sent to the Senate, where a trial is held and there are final votes to convict or acquit, as the Senate did in early February of last year.
What about the 25th amendment?
Pelosi said on Thursday the House would not have to begin impeachment if Vice President Mike Pence and other cabinet members removed Trump from office under the 25th amendment.
The amendment allows for the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to declare a president unfit for office, and the vice president then becomes acting president.
Despite widespread discontent with Trump’s actions, there appears to be little chance of a cabinet insurrection, especially after a slew of officials resigned in the wake of the Capitol riots.
A quick impeachment vote
Any member of the House can introduce articles of impeachment and trigger a procedural process that allows them to be considered almost immediately.
Approving them takes only the majority. Democrats narrowly control the House, 222-211.
Democratic Representatives David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Ted Lieu of California have circulated an article of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and are expected to introduce it on Monday – meaning a vote could come as soon as midweek if Pelosi decides to move forward.
They could also consider moving the articles through regular order, which could still be done quickly.
‘Abuse of power’
The article of impeachment circulated by the three Democrats charges Trump with abuse of power and says he “willfully made statements that encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – imminent lawless action at the Capitol”.
It said the behaviour is consistent with Trump’s prior efforts to “subvert and obstruct” the results of the election and references his recent call with the Georgia secretary of state, in which he said he wanted to find more votes after losing the state to Biden.