To impeach or not to impeach? It’s the question that’s been bitterly dividing Democrats since they gained control of the House last year and which has only intensified since the Mueller report detailing numerous alleged criminal misdoings by Donald Trump and his cronies dropped mid-April.
Since then, pressure has been building for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings as a growing tally of over 80 Democrats have come out in support. Among them are Democrats on the six critical committees tasked with investigating whether the House should proceed: Intelligence, Judiciary, Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and Ways and Means. According to Politico, nearly half of the Democrats on those committees favor impeaching the President.
And yet Pelosi remains reluctant, arguing that the broader majority of Democrats in Congress actually aren’t anywhere close to backing the effort. (And it appears somewhat true: in a recent vote for a resolution designed to challenge Pelosi’s impeachment strategy, a majority of 137 Democrats, roughly 60%, voted with Pelosi) She is also worried that any premature action taken on impeachment could backfire against Democrats in the upcoming 2020 elections.
A lot of the worry may have a lot to do with the complexity of impeachment itself. The fact is impeachment is only an official charge of wrongdoing and only the first step to removing a President from office. Once impeached, the Senate decides the President’s fate. In fact, in the history of the U.S. only two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson for breaking the 1867 Tenure of Office Act and Bill Clinton for lying under oath to a federal grand jury. Neither president was actually removed from office. (President Richard Nixon might have been the first to be removed from office in 1974, but he resigned from his position before impeachment proceedings began.)
And chances that President Trump would be removed are slim: the Senate is run by Republicans.
Is Pelosi right that impeaching Trump would be the wrong way to get him out of office? Or is there a case to be made that by not impeaching Trump, Democrats are letting the Trump administration get away with flouting the law? You’d need to know more about impeachment to decide.
Watch Refinery29’s Truth Be Told episode on how impeachment works and why it matters to you.