Washington • Let’s start with this: It won’t happen.
Barring some bombshell — and we’re talking an earthquake-causing, swamp-shattering bombshell — that would persuade 20 Republican senators to vote to remove a president from their own party, Donald Trump will remain in the White House after the impeachment trial.
But what would happen if the Senate did convict Trump?
“The removal is indeed immediate in that the president is stripped of his office by vote of the Senate,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who testified before the House Judiciary Committee last year that the Democrats’ case against Trump was too thin and didn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors the Constitution requires to remove a president.
Turley — who, as a Republican witness during the impeachment inquiry, urged the House to slow down and spend more time proving its charges — notes there is no precedent when it comes to removing a president. The Senate has removed judges but not the holder of America’s highest office.
“While it has never happened before, the Senate would likely deliver the record of the vote to the president,” Turley said. “There is no requirement that he immediately leave the White House. That would be up to his successor after he is sworn into office. However, the expectation is that the president would depart in short order and leave the boxing to others.”
The moving trucks, of course, aren't likely to be idling on Pennsylvania Avenue. There's no trap door, either.
“I don’t think anyone has thought through all the rest of the logistics,” said Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and expert on Congress and the presidency who has been a sharp critic of Trump.
“There would be, I would imagine, a transition for moving belongings out of the White House, but I would guess he would have to leave immediately,” Ornstein said. “And Pence would be sworn in as soon as the Senate voted for conviction.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who is next in line in presidential succession, would take over as president under the 25th Amendment. How quickly a federal judge could be lined up to swear him in might be the only delay in Pence taking over the Oval Office.
Of course, should the improbable happen, it also likely depends on how Trump reacts.
President Bill Clinton was never in jeopardy of being convicted in his Senate impeachment trial, but President Richard Nixon was. Republican congressional leaders knew that and drove to the White House to inform Nixon that the House would impeach him and the Senate would likely convict.
“Realistically, if Trump knew the Senate would vote that way, my guess is he would act like Nixon and resign first,” Ornstein said. “The tricky question is whether he would do something reckless leading up to that vote, while he was still president and commander in chief.”
Any action by the president after a removal vote would likely be challenged in court and even as bitterly divided as Washington seems, there’s likely little appetite for a constitutional showdown in the White House’s West Wing.
“If the ex-president refused to go, he would be escorted out once Pence became commander in chief,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“Since removal has never happened, there is no manual,” Sabato added. “But one thing is clear: Removal is immediate. No doubt a Senate delegation would be dispatched to the White House right away to ‘inform’ the president he is no longer president. Pence would be sworn in that same day, just as though a president had resigned or died.”
Nixon, Sabato notes, left office with his wife, Pat, before his resignation was effective at noon. His daughters remained behind to pack up their belongings.
After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in quickly on Air Force One but Jacqueline Kennedy remained in the White House residence for months.
“I’d bet Ivanka would pack up for her father,” Sabato said of Trump's daughter.
“Won’t happen but interesting to think about,” the professor added.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the idea that the Senate would convict and remove Trump is “about as likely as a 100-degree day in Utah in January.”
Even so, Tobias explains there are real concerns about whether Trump would actually leave office. Trump would never resign, Tobias says, and the president has already joked about not leaving the White House if he were to lose reelection.
“If Trump were convicted, there would be a short period for organization and transition,” Tobias predicts of the improbable. “However, no president would want to stick around once convicted.”
Then again, the professor added. “This is speculation, because it will not happen.”