VERIFY: The president has no constitutional power to end impeachment trial

National

A viewer asked if the president has a 'kill switch' to end the impeachment trial. VERIFY breaks down the difference between constitutional and political powers.

President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is finally getting fully underway this week. 

With this being just the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, it’s no surprise there are questions on how this whole process works.

Like this question from viewer Loretta S., “Does the president have a kill switch in which he can stop the impeachment trial in its tracks? If so what’s the use in wasting the United States citizens money, time and hope for finding truth and justice. We as one of many American people would like an answer to this question.”

THE QUESTION

Does the president have a kill switch or any powers to stop the impeachment trial in its tracks? 

THE ANSWER

In his official role as president, Trump cannot stop or “kill” the impeachment process. 

According to the U.S. Constitution, all the powers related to impeachment belong to Congress. The office of the president doesn’t have any impeachment-related powers.

But, President Trump isn’t only the head of the Executive branch of government. He’s also one of the leaders of the Republican party. 

Some of the confusion may come from news that the Republican Senate majority leader is coordinating with the president.

Put simply, President Trump can’t directly use his powers as president to affect the trial in any way. However, he could use his position in the Republican party to influence senators in his party.

WHAT WE FOUND

The Constitution of the United States doesn’t say a lot about impeachment, but it makes a few things clear. 

Article one of the Constitution states that the House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach someone and the Senate has the sole power to try that impeachment. 

The president and impeachment are mentioned together in article two, but only when talking about presidential limits. It explains that the president has the power to grant pardons and reprieves, except in cases of impeachment.

All of that indicates the president cannot simply stop the impeachment at a whim. If he could, it would defeat the purpose of impeachment powers in the first place.

However, there is little other information on impeachment within the Constitution. That means the process is largely determined by the bodies operating the process: first, the House then the Senate.

It has been reported throughout the past month that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is working closely with the White House on the impeachment trial and strategy. That is in large part because the Senate majority and the president share the same party: Republican.

Senators aren’t obligated to cooperate with the president or even their own party during the trial, however. In fact, all senators took an oath of impartiality to begin the trial.

A simple majority vote is all that’s needed for most decisions made during the trial process. Chief Justice John Roberts can make rulings on “questions of relevancy, immateriality, and redundancy of evidence and incidental questions,” regarding evidence, according to the Senate’s 1986 rules on impeachment, but any member of the Senate can call for a formal vote to overturn Roberts’ decision.

With a 53-47 Republican majority, it would take four defecting senators to defy the wishes of the majority party. So even if the majority leader cooperates with the president in the impeachment trial, the president only has as much power as the Senate chooses to give him. 

Any “kill switch” to end the impeachment trial would have to come from the Senate, not the president.

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