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Does An Impeached President Have Limited Power? The Consequences Are Clear

The moment everyone was waiting to see finally happened: On Dec. 18, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump on two charges — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The White House did not respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on the vote. But while many of Trump's critics are celebrating his impeachment, it might be putting the cart before the horse. While he has been impeached, he won't necessarily be removed from office. And if he does stay in office, the president's power won't be limited by impeachment.

On Wednesday, Dec. 18, members of the House voted mostly along party lines to impeach Trump. In a Dec. 17 letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Trump called the charges in the articles of impeachment "disingenuous" and "preposterous." But while impeachment is an embarrassing stain on his presidency, it might not have a huge effect on his presidential power. The House has the power to impeach a president, but only the Senate (currently controlled by Republicans) has the power to convict and remove a president. The Constitution limits the punishment for impeachment to removal from office and a potential ban on holding office again. So, if the House impeaches a president and the Senate acquits them, the president will stay in office and not face any additional consequences. Basically, if Trump can survive his Senate trial, he will have just as much official authority as ever.

What it does to his image and his working relationships, however, will have to be seen. Trump is only the third president in American history to be impeached by Congress, and the first modern president to be impeached in his first term. In the last modern impeachment, that of Bill Clinton in 1998 and 1999, Clinton actually saw his public approval ratings rise, per Gallup. The week he was officially impeached by the House in December 1998, 73% of those polled said they approved of his job as president. Clinton was later acquitted by the Senate. As of Dec. 18, the day of the impeachment vote, Gallup put Trump's approval rating at 45%.

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The Constitution only provides a limited amount of information about how the impeachment process should work. What is clear, however, is the Senate doesn't have the power to imprison a president or impose many consequences besides removal. Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution. states, "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."

That means that if the Senate acquits Trump of the impeachment charges against him, they will not be able to punish him in any way. They won't be able to prevent him from running for reelection in 2020, or other offices in the future. Republican leaders in the Senate have indicated that they will defend Trump against removal, and the GOP's Senate majority makes it highly unlikely that Trump will be removed from office or face any other consequences.

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Even if Democrats don't manage to remove Trump from office following impeachment, they have made something very clear: The stakes in the 2020 presidential election are extremely high. As a result, Democrats will likely continue to explore ways to unseat Trump, whether through the election or the impeachment process.