After months of hearings and debates, the House of Representatives officially voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Dec. 18. But you don't need to gear up for a Mike Pence presidency quite yet — the impeachment process still has to go through the Senate. The Senate is responsible for organizing an impeachment trial, and only they have the power to remove a president from office. But wait — Pence, as vice president, technically presides over the Senate — so can a vice president vote on impeachment? Well, the Senate impeachment trial isn't quite like typical daily proceedings.
It's true that the Constitution gives the vice president of the United States the authority to preside over the Senate. However, this authority is extremely limited, and it would not give Pence the ability to vote on Trump's removal from office. Per the Constitution and official Senate rules, there are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, the vice president can't vote in the Senate unless there is a tie. In the case of an impeachment trial the Senate must achieve a two-thirds majority in order to remove a president from office, so there would never be a tie in this scenario.
Secondly, it's not Pence who would preside over the Senate during Trump's impeachment trial. Instead, the Constitution calls upon the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — in Trump's case, this would be John Roberts — to preside over impeachment proceedings. Finally, Pence would be next in line for the presidency if Trump were removed from office, so it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on Trump's potential departure from the White House even if he did have that power, which he does not.
The Constitution does not say a great deal about impeachment, but it does make it clear that only the Senate has the power to remove a president from office. Although the vice president presides over the Senate, he is not a senator or a typical voting member of the chamber, and therefore has no say in whether Trump stays or goes.
Even without Pence's vote, however, as things stand Trump is likely to be acquitted in the event of a Senate impeachment trial. That's because Republicans have a majority in the Senate, and Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed their willingness to work closely with the White House to organize a Senate trial. Because of this, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has actually aired the possibility of temporarily withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate. The Senate can't start organizing a trial until the House officially sends over the articles of impeachment, and Pelosi has suggested that she wants to wait and see if she can get Republican leaders to compromise on terms of a trial.
It's unclear how much leverage Democrats would actually gain by doing this, especially because McConnell has said that he is in no rush to conduct an impeachment trial. McConnell and other Republican leaders have been advocating for a brief trial without witnesses, on the basis that any witnesses called by Democrats could be damaging to Trump's case. Once the impeachment process moves to the Senate, Republican senators hope to move the trial along quickly and acquit Trump so that he can serve out the remainder of his term and continue his reelection bid.