If Donald Trump is indeed removed from office, he will be the first US President to be deposed, although he is the fourth to face an attempt to remove him from office, after Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton. Congress will certainly try to learn from these past political experiences during the current process. Removing Trump from office will be challenging, however, particularly as the Senate is held by a Republican majority who support the President. Nonetheless, unlikely as it may be, the possibility remains that many Trump supporters may change their position, particularly if it becomes apparent during the public hearings in the House of Representatives and the witness testimonies concerning the various activities of the Trump administration that progress needs to be made towards trial proceedings and Trump’s removal from office. Both chambers of Congress will have to prioritize their national loyalty and their responsibility to the American people over their party loyalty to the President.
In such an event, in view of the provisions of article 5 of the US Constitution, it is highly likely that Vice-President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate and the first in the line of succession, would replace his deposed predecessor as acting US President. He would serve out the rest of the President’s term of office, until 20 January 2021, which would be considered a transitional period before the new President took office.
If such a scenario occurred before the start of the 2020 presidential race, in which Trump has already declared his intention to run, a dangerous “political earthquake” may occur that radically changes the domestic and foreign political landscape in America and leaves Congress to shoulder the burdens of running the country until presidential elections take place and the next President enters the White House.
Repercussions of Trump’s removal
1. The political architecture and the existing balance of power in the USA: The fact that this is the first time in US history that the head of state — who is also the head of the executive branch — may be removed from office has strengthened the powers of the legislative branch, represented by the two chambers of the Senate, to carry out the unprecedented removal as part of its mandated supervisory role. The new President would also have to review their relationship with Congress and examine the repercussions of any future decisions or positions adopted by Congress concerning the President’s relationship with the parliamentary majority, whether it be their own party or the opposition.
Trump’s removal would have an impact on the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. During the first two years of Trump’s administration, the Republicans held a majority in the House of Representatives. Although they lost that majority during the 2018 mid-term elections, they still hold a majority in Congress. Trump remains convinced that he still holds the keys to the political game, as all laws discussed by the House of Representatives must pass through Congress for approval. A compromise therefore needs to be found between what the President (the head of the executive branch) is trying to achieve through the bills that he and the Republican Party in the House of Representatives support and what the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives (one of the two chambers of the legislative branch) is seeking to get passed through the Senate in other bills. Some of the issues that Trump has pursued have led to significant splits in the Republican majority in the Senate, which calls into question whether the President can always count on the support of his own party’s majority.
2. Policies of the new administration: The world will likely follow the events of the post-Trump period with anticipation, given the USA’s position as the leading international superpower. Attention will be paid to the political choices made and the positions adopted on various international and regional issues. During such a transition period, the transitional President — in this case, Mike Pence — usually tries to retain the policies and positions adopted before the President’s removal until the new administration takes power and adopts its own policies, approaches and decisions.
Despite Pence and Trump’s differences of opinion on many matters, Pence will likely see it as his responsibility to leave most of his predecessor’s policies unchanged until the election results are decided and the new President takes office.
Possible post-Trump scenarios
Once Pence has completed the transitional period, which would run until the end of the former President’s term of office, one of the following scenarios may occur:
- Upon receiving the Republican nomination, Pence may run in the presidential elections, as he is a leading figure in the party and is considered the voice of reason in the White House. In this event, the Republicans could well win a second term under Pence. Once Pence takes office, although he will likely continue to implement some of Trump’s policies, he may disagree with many of them and may attempt to distance himself from the failures of his predecessor’s administration.
- Democrat Joe Biden may win the next presidential election. The American people know him from his time as Obama’s Vice-President, during which his work was characterized by a sense of balance, sobriety and attempted rapprochement with the Republicans. As many of his views differ from those of Trump, he will likely attempt to change several of the most controversial policies and decisions, without taking a radical stance that could have a negative impact on the country’s institutions and economy or on American society as a whole.
- Alternatively, if he intensifies his campaign and wins the democratic nomination in place of Biden, billionaire Democrat Michael Bloomberg, the owner of several well-known financial and media institutions, could become the next President. If so, he will be another businessperson, like Trump, to hold the position, this time from the Democratic camp. Unlike Trump, however, he will likely create a better, quieter environment in which to develop his policies and manage his domestic and foreign approaches, given his accumulated experience serving as mayor of New York three times in a row.
- Perhaps the least likely scenario is that Hillary Clinton will again win the Democratic presidential nomination thanks to her previous experience, particularly as there are reports that she is studying the possibility of running for nomination in view of the weakness of the current Democratic candidates, including Biden. The American people are familiar with most of her views from the last time she participated in the presidential elections, in 2016, which she lost to Trump, with whom she disagrees strongly on most domestic and foreign political issues.
Similarities and differences in Pence and Biden’s visions
Although Pence is not expected to change many of Trump’s policies and decisions during the transitional period, his political calculations may change during the presidential elections if he faces his perhaps closest political rival, Joe Biden. In that event, he will seek to produce his own political manifesto during the presidential race, with a focus on showing how his policies and ideas differ — sometimes radically — from Trump’s own.
On the other hand, Biden’s campaign is likely to focus on the failures of the previous administration as a whole with regard to how it handled many domestic and foreign issues. We shall now take a quick look at the positions that Pence and Biden are expected to adopt on the most important domestic and foreign political issues.
- Migration: Pence will likely preserve the US–Mexican border wall, designed to prevent irregular migrants from Latin American countries from entering the USA, as most of it has already been built and as a significant level of taxpayer money has been allocated to the project by the Ministry of Defense (over $1 billion). The Democrats oppose Trump’s populist policies on migration and have stated that, as a major power, the USA has a political and humanitarian responsibility towards migrants. Biden will probably raise the issue of legalizing such immigration in his election manifesto, but will stop short of adopting any shocking policies on the subject.
- Economy: Both Pence and Biden will attempt to calm the trade wars started between the USA and several other countries, in particular China, during Trump’s term of office, as the conflicts have had a clear impact on the local economy. They will also try to increase the number of jobs for American citizens.
- Media relations: Following Trump’s long-term hostile relationship with the media, in particular several well-known daily newspapers and widely watched news channels such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN, Pence will try to take a calmer direction in his interactions with media representatives. Biden, too, will try to re-establish good relations between the two parties, drawing on their political experience.
Whoever the next President is, they will want to avoid making the same foreign policy mistakes that Trump made, particularly during election periods, such as his connection to Russia during the 2016 elections and Ukraine during the 2020 elections. Pence and Biden may adopt similar policies on some foreign issues, while differing on others:
- Iran: The Democrats agree with the Trump and Pence administration that the USA must continue to penalize Iran for supporting terrorism and for continuing to develop and run a nuclear program in violation of the agreements reached on the subject.
- The Gulf: The Democrats and the Republicans agree that, given the strategic importance of the region, the USA must continue to cooperate with the Gulf states on political and economic issues in order to protect international trade routes, combat terrorism and extremism, and counter the threat posed by Iran and its hostile regional policies. However, the Democrats are more in favor of withdrawing US support for the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.
- Syria: The Democrats have voiced their strong opposition to Trump and Pence’s management of US troops in northern Syria, which opened the door to Turkish troops to fill the gap left behind. It is expected that, if elected, Biden will strengthen the US military presence in northern Syria in a new attempt to restore balance to the region, particularly as large numbers of Russian troops remain in the country.
- Israel and the Palestine issue: Pence and Biden are both, by and large, in favor of preserving the USA’s strong ties with Israel and supporting its position on Palestine. Both with likely retain Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital” of Israel and will continue to state that Israeli settlements in the West Bank do not violate international law.