In the US, Democrats have been itching for Trump’s impeachment over the past year, so Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representative's investigation is a watershed moment. On September 24, Pelosi (who is arguably the most powerful woman in US government right now) finally made the announcement many have been waiting for: the launch of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. This followed shortly after revelations that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into a Vice President Biden, holding out military funds in the process. The House is calling this an impeachable offence and voted to move forward with official impeachment proceedings on Thursday,
If you’re among the many progressive Democrats who’ve been itching for Trump’s impeachment over the past year, Nancy Pelosi and the House of Representatives investigation is a watershed moment. On September 24, Pelosi (who is arguably the most powerful woman in government right now) finally made the announcement many have been waiting for: the launch of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. This followed shortly after revelations that Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into a Vice President Biden, holding out military funds in the process.The House is calling this an impeachable offence and voted to move forward with official impeachment proceedings on Thursday, October 31. Hearings commenced on November 13 and continued for two weeks, calling to trial everyone who was involved in the Ukraine scandal and beyond. On Wednesday December 4, the House Intelligence Committee passed off findings from those trials to the Judiciary Committee which is now leading its own investigation.
Now, everything comes to a head on Wednesday December 18 when the House of Representatives gathers to vote on two articles of impeachment. If they vote in favor, Donald Trump will be the third impeached president in the United States.
So, how is an “impeachment inquiry” different from an actual impeachment? Even if you are old enough to remember the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, you probably still have questions about what that means exactly, how long this whole malarkey is going to take, and what, if any, political risks there are for Democrats to do this during an election year. (Honestly, even those of us who do remember Clinton’s impeachment probably still have those questions.)
The truth is a lot of remains unclear about the possibility of Trump’s impeachment and the timeline of this whole thing. To clear things up, we’ve laid out some of those questions with answers to how the impeachment process will work for President Trump, specifically.
What is an impeachment inquiry?
Impeachment is a long and complicated process that investigates whether or not a president is responsible for committing "high crimes and misdemeanours". If the president is proven guilty by the House of Representatives on that fact alone, he can be impeached on a vote. This process isn’t clearly outlined by the United States Constitution, but this is how it’s worked before.
An impeachment inquiry, which was announced by Pelosi yesterday, signifies the start of the investigation process within the House. And although Pelosi announced that the Democrats are going to pursue an impeachment inquiry, she didn’t really say how everything would go down — even behind closed doors.
What we know is this: An official impeachment inquiry, decided by the House of Representatives, marks the start of congressional investigations of the Trump presidency. Pelosi directed six congressional committees to take a deep dive into Trump’s dealings, inquiring about his past, and putting together a sufficient case that will come to a head with a vote to impeach. If a majority of the House votes favourably, Trump’s impeachment will then move to the Senate, who will determine whether or not he can remain in office.
Who has the power to impeach the president?
In the US, the House holds all the cards as far as impeachment goes. If the House of Representatives votes to impeach Trump, he will formally be charged with wrongdoing. It does not mean he will be ousted from the Oval Office, though. Once impeached by the House, the Senate will conduct a trial to determine if Trump is actually responsible for "high crimes and misdemeanours", as phrased by the Constitution. After that, they can then vote him out of office entirely.
Why are they trying to impeach Trump?
Yesterday, House Democrats announced that they have sufficient evidence to suspect the president of violating the Constitution by using his power for political gain. Trump admitted this week to withholding Congress-approved military funds from the Ukraine in an effort to get their President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Over the past few days, details of Trump’s conversations with Zelensky have unfolded, proving that Trump not only tried to investigate a leading Democratic candidate but that he held off on sending $391 million in military aid to the Ukraine until he got his answers.
This is the latest on a laundry list of infractions that Democrats have tried to use as charges against Trump, but it is also the most damning one to date. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has been accused of nearly a dozen impeachable infractions that will likely be used against him as the House of Representatives moves to impeach.
What’s next for Trump?
Six committees in the House of Representatives will investigate Trump. They are the Judiciary, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Oversight and Foreign Affairs. Collectively, they will present evidence to Pelosi as House Speaker to make the final call. The investigating and findings will go beyond just his presidency, too: Donald Trump’s entire past might be under the microscope.
If Pelosi finds the evidence sufficient, she will then turn it over to the House Judiciary Committee for a final vote.
How many votes are needed to impeach the president?
Two hundred and eighteen House votes are required for a formal impeachment.
Voting will happen after the House Judiciary Committee collects and reviews all of the investigative information when prompted by the Speaker. They then have two options: present it to the full House of Representatives to vote on, or conduct a special panel for the proceedings. In either case, the House of Representatives will have to come to a final vote. If the majority of the House votes in favour, President Trump will be officially impeached in the House. Since the Democratic majority is 235-198 right now, the odds are likely that a formal impeachment will occur.
How long does the impeachment process take?
It’s unclear how long proceedings could take.
Each impeachment inquiry is different but based on the most recently pursued impeachment, that of Bill Clinton in 1998, we can assume that the entire process — from inquiry to House vote — could take as little as two months. In Clinton’s case, impeachment proceedings began in early October 1998, and he was officially impeached by mid-December after a majority House vote.
Given that the next US election isn’t until 3rd November 2020, it’s very plausible that an impeachment vote could happen well before next year.
If Trump is impeached, will he still be president?
Sort of. If the House votes to impeach Trump, he can still remain in office and will be on trial in the Senate.
The Senate’s official trial will present everything on Trump’s impeachment and result in a final vote to determine if Trump is guilty of political crimes. The Senate, which is currently controlled by a Republican majority, will require two-thirds of present members to vote for conviction in order to remove Trump from office.
Has a president ever been impeached before?
Yes, twice. The first presidential impeachment in the US was of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the second was of Bill Clinton in 1998. If you need a refresher, Clinton famously claimed he "did NOT have sexual relations with THAT woman". Clinton swore to it under oath, and Republicans accused him of perjuring himself when it was revealed that he did have an affair with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate ultimately deemed that his bad behaviour did not qualify under the "high crimes and misdemeanours" requirement to be removed from office.
Although many believe that President Richard Nixon was impeached from office, he actually stepped down before giving the House the opportunity to move toward an impeachment resolution.
Other than all that, while two presidents have been impeached, no president in US history has ever actually been removed from office.