Congress Could Still Keep Trump From Office if Acquitted and Some Republicans May Support It

Democrats are fighting an uphill battle to keep former President Donald Trump from holding federal office again, but the fight might not necessarily be over if he's acquitted in the Senate.

Convicting Trump in the Senate would require support from 11 Republicans who voted to dismiss the case on the ground that it's unconstitutional. His likely acquittal could reignite a campaign to formally reprimand him in the form of a censure, which has the potential to bar him from federal office. But getting Republicans on board with the measure will take some convincing.

As it stands now, "there's not enough" Republicans who are interested in Senator Tim Kaine's measure to ensure it has the votes necessary to pass.

"I don't think Republicans want to put a hurdle in Donald Trump's way. There are some Republicans who do, but not enough," Kaine told The Hill.

Censures are often considered formal slaps on the wrist, but Kaine's resolution used language in line with the 14th Amendment in an effort to keep Trump from holding federal office in the future. Under Section 3 of the amendment, Congress can prevent an official from holding office if the person "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the U.S. or has "given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, told reporters on Friday that there were a "couple of resolutions out there," in reference to the censure effort. Some could "attract some support" from Republicans, but he doesn't expect measures that could bar Trump from future office to "go anywhere."

trump office censure impeachment vote
A Donald Trump supporter adjusts his hat at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on January 17. A censure effort could bar the former president from federal office, but it'll be an uphill battle to get Republicans on board. George Frey/AFP/Getty

However, a censure effort could put Republicans in a tougher position than impeachment did. While even some of Trump's strongest allies were critical of the role he played in the January 6 Capitol riot, many opposed convicting him during a trial on the ground that it would be unconstitutional since he is no longer a sitting president.

That defense likely won't fly with a censure effort, since Article 3 of the 14th Amendment includes anyone who has taken an oath to support the Constitution. With constitutional questions set aside, there would likely be arguments over what role Trump played and if he gave "aid and comfort" to enemies of the U.S.

Ahead of Trump's impeachment trial, Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, joined Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, in leading an effort to censure Trump. Collins told NECN it was "obvious" that Trump won't be convicted after 45 Republicans voted in January to dismiss the case on the ground that it isn't constitutional.

"My own preference is for a resolution that strongly condemns his actions," Collins said at the time, adding that "only once before in history has the Congress acted to censure the president and it is a significant action."

The censure effort was short-lived, though, and days later Kaine announced the two senators were dropping it because they didn't have enough support from either side of the aisle. Republicans didn't want to bar Trump from office, and Democrats wanted "impeachment or nothing."

A censure effort may also depend on how senators vote in Trump's trial. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley told ABC News' Powerhouse Politics podcast on Wednesday that if the Democrats don't get 67 senators to convict Trump, the question becomes "Can you get 60 to close debate on a censure motion?"

If they get 60 votes during Trump's trial, he said, it's "certainly within the realm of possibility."