US Capitol violence: Can Donald Trump be removed from office before his term ends on Jan 20?

In an unprecedented assault on democracy in America, thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol and clashed with police, resulting in at least four deaths and interruption of the constitutional process to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory in the election.

After violent pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, several US lawmakers have demanded immediate removal of President Donald Trump from office, alleging that he incited his supporters leading to an unprecedented incident that has dented the democracy of America.

The events have renewed questions as to whether Trump could be declared unfit for office, or charged with a criminal act.

While some US lawmakers called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, and some said Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately.

But can Trump be removed from office before his term ends?

The short answer is yes. Following the US Capitol Hill siege, there were demands for immediate removal of Donald Trump from the office of the US president before his term ends on January 20.

There are two ways through which a President can be removed from office: Through the 25th amendment of the US constitution, and impeachment followed by a Senate conviction. But in either scenario, the vice-president, Mike Pence, would take over until Biden’s inauguration.

The 25th Amendment

The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967 and adopted in the wake of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, deals with presidential succession and disability. The 25th Amendment contains four sections and pertains to the president's ability to perform the duties of the presidency. It also states the course of action in case the commander-in-chief is no longer able to do his/her job. The amendment empowers the vice president to temporarily become president, enabling a smooth transition of power in an emergency.

Under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, the president can be removed from office if the vice president and a majority either of the cabinet secretaries or of Congress declare in writing that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Section 4 addresses situations where a president is unable to do the job, but does not step down voluntarily.

The drafters of the 25th Amendment intended for it to apply when a president is incapacitated by a physical or mental illness, experts say. According to Reuters, scholars have argued that it could also apply more broadly to a president who is dangerously unfit for office.

Can Trump be impeached?

The other possibility is impeachment followed by his removal. In the US, impeachment means holding the president guilty on charges of high crime or misdemeanour by the House of Representatives or the lower house of the US Congress. After a US president is impeached, the matter goes to the Senate, the upper house, which has to vote for removing the incumbent from the post. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict and remove a president.

Trump was previously impeached by the Democratic-led US House in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son. Trump was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate in February 2020.

(Inputs from Agencies)

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