mike pence nancy pelosi
Vice President Mike Pence and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Image: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Donald Trump is still president for another 12 days. And in that time a lot could happen.

After yesterday’s shocking scenes in the US Capitol, there are growing calls from Democrats to remove him from office, while a handful of Republicans have awkwardly distanced themselves from their leader.

The Trump era is nearly over. But it will not go quietly.

Can Trump be removed?

Democrats, and a few Republicans, have seen enough. Even though Trump has one foot out of the Oval Office, they want him gone even sooner.

There are two ways Trump can be removed. Firstly, section four of the 25th amendment to the constitution provides a process where the vice-president and cabinet can declare a president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”.

Introduced after John F Kennedy’s assassination, other sections of the 25th amendment have been used to temporarily transfer power while presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush were having medical procedures. But section four has never been used. And while House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has demanded Mike Pence immediately invoke the amendment, Trump’s removal is unlikely.

Pence would need to bring around Trump’s cabinet, and while there have certainly been whispers about invoking the 25th, so far Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger is the only Republican to go on record demanding the president’s removal.

Then again, there’s the (probably theoretical) possibility that the 25th amendment could be invoked without telling the public, allowing twitchy GOPers to knife Trump in the back.

Still, even if Pence kicks things off, in secret or otherwise, removing Trump requires a two-third majority in both houses of Congress, numbers Democrats simply do not have. Some Republicans are deserting Trump, but not nearly enough.

Pelosi has said that if Pence doesn’t come through, the Democrats will impeach Trump. They already tried that last year, and unsurprisingly couldn’t meet the two-thirds Senate majority required to convict.

Theoretically, the Democrats will hold the Senate balance of power once Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are sworn in. But that won’t happen until the votes from Tuesday’s Georgia run-off election (remember that?) are certified, which might not be until two days after Biden is inaugurated.

At this point, any attempt by Pelosi to impeach Trump would be purely symbolic and almost certain to fail.

GOP still backs the president

Despite everything we saw unfold yesterday, Trump still has an incredible stranglehold on the Republican Party. Most chatter about removing him from office has been anonymous.

After the storming of Capitol, early resignations from the Trump administration were limited to peripheral White House figures — the first lady’s chief of staff, and a deputy press secretary. But overnight, transport secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, tendered her resignation, making her the highest ranking administration official to do so.

But it was a different story in Congress yesterday. Even after the Capitol had to be evacuated, ambitious presidential wannabes like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley continued to lead futile debates over certifying Biden’s electoral college victory. And a majority of House Republicans would stroke Trump’s ego by objecting to the results.

When Trump called into a Republican National Convention winter meeting on Thursday morning, he was greeted with cheers. It’s still his party.

What can Trump do?

As Biden’s victory was certified, Trump released a statement committing to an “orderly transition”, just hours after he’d egged on supporters to storm Congress.

Today he released a longer video, where he appeared to finally accept the result, condemn the putschists and call for “healing and reconciliation” (seriously).

But he also had a final message for his “wonderful” supporters: “Our incredible journey is only just beginning.”

Everything we’ve learned during Trump’s unhinged wrecking-ball presidency suggests he will still try and do something shocking and damaging in his final days in office.

Still, as the lamest of lame duck presidents, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to do something hugely insane. Plus his social media reach has been hamstrung. Facebook has blocked him until at least the transition is complete, while Twitter blocked three of his tweets during the riot yesterday, and temporarily suspended his account

Trump could certainly make use of his pardon power. In the final days of his presidency, he’s used it to let plenty of his cronies off the hook. He reportedly has a list of family members and inner-circle associates to be preemptively pardoned. He’s also considering rapper Lil Wayne.

And in recent weeks, he’s said to have discussed the possibility of pardoning himself. That’s legally uncertain terrain, because no president has left office with the prospect of criminal charges so real a possibility.

The aftermath

Yesterday’s violence at the Capitol left four of his supporters dead. One of them was Ashli Babbitt, allegedly shot by Capitol security forces. Babbitt was a fervent Trump supporter and air force veteran who’d gotten hooked on Fox News and QAnon conspiracy theories. The other three died from “medical emergencies” and include the founder of MAGA social media site Trumparoo. 

So far, just over 80 people have been arrested over the attempted insurrection, mostly for violating curfew. And the difference between the relatively docile police response to the Trump mob and the aggressive brutality witnessed around the country during last year’s Black Lives Matter rallies is stark.

A few blocks away, a pipe bomb was found outside the RNC.

On January 20, Biden will be inaugurated at last. It’ll be a relieving but sober morning in America.