LGBTQ equality could be affected by the result of the impeachment inquiry that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opened earlier this week.
The U.S. House of Representatives has started the process to potentially remove Donald Trump from office following reports of a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community. The anonymous official has accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine’s new government to investigate Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s family.
If the House votes to impeach and 2/3 of the Senate votes to remove Trump from office, LGBTQ equality hangs in the balance.
In one possible outcome, Congress only removes Trump from office and Mike Pence succeeds him.
Pence has a long and deep history of working against the LGBTQ population’s interests. He opposed any legislation to advance equality when he was a member of the House, then as the governor of Indiana, and again as vice president.
Even Trump reportedly joked about how anti-LGBTQ Pence is, saying that Pence “wants to hang them all.”
While Trump may be solidly opposed to LGBTQ equality, he hasn’t rescinded the executive orders that ban discrimination along the lines of gender identity and sexual orientation for federal employees. A President Pence, though, might be willing to do just that.
In another possible scenario, both Pence and Trump are removed from office by Congress. Pence is also being accused of wrongdoing by the whistleblower. Given his loyalty to Trump, other accusations may come out in the future.
Of course, if removal of Trump from office is a longshot because it would require at least 17 Republican senators to turn against Trump, then this scenario is even less likely to happen because those Republicans would also have to turn against Pence, a solid conservative.
As vice president, Pence isn’t immune from prosecution while in office like the President. If the whistleblower’s report results in criminal prosecutions, Pence could be at the top of the list along with Attorney General Barr.
If Congress went after Pence as well but didn’t remove them at the same time, he would be president for the time after Trump is removed from office but before he is. In that time, he would have the ability to pick a new vice president, according to the 25th Amendment.
And he would likely pick another solidly anti-LGBTQ Republican as vice president.
A third scenario – where Congress removes Trump and Pence at the exact same time – is next to impossible. Not only would those Senate Republicans have to turn their backs on both Trump and Pence, but they would be voluntarily handing the White House over to Democrats.
In this scenario Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, would be allowed to assume the office of the presidency as an acting president. (She would also have to resign as a U.S. Representative.)
Pelosi has proven time and again that she backs LGBTQ equality, but an Acting President Pelosi would probably not be able to roll everything back within a year. Most of Trump’s attacks on LGBTQ rights have been through his appointees, whether his administration was removing protections for transgender students or granting religious exemptions to medical personnel.
Pelosi would have to fire and replace Trump’s appointees to advance a progressive agenda, with a Senate still controlled by Republicans. So her short presidency would be weighed down in gridlock until the winner of the 2020 presidential election takes office.
If Pelosi refuses to resign from the U.S. House, then the next in line for the presidency would be the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, currently Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who would have to resign from the U.S. Senate. If he refused, then the job would fall on one of Trump’s Secretaries.
So the only way the office goes to the Democrats is if the Senate votes to remove Trump and Pence simultaneously and Pelosi resigns from the U.S. House.
While removing Trump from office may be the right thing to do for a number of reasons, it’s unlikely to do anything about the executive branch’s attacks on LGBTQ equality.