Cotton: Senate Lacks Authority to Hold Trump Impeachment Trial After Jan. 20

Cotton: Senate Lacks Authority to Hold Trump Impeachment Trial After Jan. 20
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) speaks at a press conference in Washington on July 1, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Jan. 13 that the Senate lacks constitutional authority to conduct impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump once he leaves office.

“The Senate lacks constitutional authority to conduct impeachment proceedings against a former president. The Founders designed the impeachment process as a way to remove officeholders from public office—not an inquest against private citizens,” Cotton said in a statement.

Cotton says he'll oppose another Senate impeachment trial after Democrats in the House of Representatives, joined by 10 Republicans, voted this week to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time, in a 232–197 vote.

The single article of impeachment alleges that the president incited an insurrection that resulted in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The impeachment, accomplished in a single seven-hour session, was the fastest in U.S. history. It’s also the first time in the nation’s history that a president has been impeached twice.

Republicans criticized the rush, arguing that it offered no due process to the president and no confidence in the proceedings to the American people. Democrats justified the truncated process by alleging that Trump poses a danger to the nation every day he’s in office.

“We know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claimed. “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Every Democrat voted in favor of impeachment.

Republicans who voted to impeach the president were Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Tom Rice (R-S.C.), David Valadao (R-Calif.), and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.).

Cotton also argued that the Senate wouldn’t be able to conclude an impeachment trial before Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn into office.

“The House has passed an article of impeachment against the president, but the Senate, under its rules and precedents, cannot start and conclude a fair trial before the president leaves office next week,” he said.

Cotton condemned last week’s violence that transpired as some rioters and protesters decided to unlawfully enter the Capitol building as the majority of Trump supporters rallied outside.

Following the outbreak of violence, Trump took to Twitter to call on protesters to “go home in peace.” He denounced the violence as a “heinous attack” that “defiled the seat of American democracy” on Jan. 7.

Cotton said: “'There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’ Those words are as true today as when Abraham Lincoln spoke them. As I said last summer when mob violence gripped our streets, so I say again about the mob violence at our nation’s Capitol last week: those persons responsible should be held accountable in the courts to the full extent of the law.

“Fidelity to the Constitution must always remain the lodestar of our nation,” he said. “Last week, I opposed the effort to reject certified electoral votes for the same reason—fidelity to the Constitution—I now oppose impeachment proceedings against a former president.”

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.