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 Representative's 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 offense and voted to move forward with official impeachment proceedings on Thursday, October 31. Hearings commenced on November 13 and will continue for the duration of the week, calling to trial everyone who was involved in the Ukraine scandal and beyond.
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 allows Congress to investigate whether or not a President is responsible for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 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 Constitution, but this is how it’s worked before.
Here's what we know so far: The official impeachment inquiry, decided by the House of Representatives, marks the start of congressional investigations of the Trump presidency. In September, 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 favorably, 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 U.S., 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 misdemeanors,” as phrased by the Constitution. After that, it can then vote him out of office entirely.
Why are they trying to impeach Trump?
Upon Pelosi's announcement of an impeachment inquiry, House Democrats decided that they have sufficient evidence to suspect the President of violating the constitution by using his power for political gain. Trump admitted in September to withholding Congress-approved military funds from Ukraine in an effort to get President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Over the course of a few days prior to the announcement, details of Trump’s conversations with Zelensky were released, suggesting that Trump not only tried to investigate a leading Democratic candidate, but held off on sending $391 million in military aid to 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.
How many votes are needed to impeach the president?
218 House votes are required for a formal impeachment.
Voting generally happens after the House Judiciary Committee collects and reviews all of the investigative information when prompted by the Speaker. It then has 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 favor, 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 pace of this current investigation, as well as the most recently pursued impeachment (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 General Election isn’t until November 3, 2020, it’s very plausible that Trump's impeachment could be determined 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 U.S. 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 behavior did not qualify under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” 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 U.S. history has ever actually been removed from office.
What’s next for Trump?
Six committees in the House of Representatives are currently investigating 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 investigation will go beyond just his presidency, too: Donald Trump’s entire past is and will continue to be under a microscope.
What will the impeachment trials look like?
On October 31, the House of Representatives voted to move forward with Trump's impeachment inquiry after a tumultuous month that included Republican party leaders storming into impeachment proceedings. The Democratic-led majority House voted in favor of this new phase of the proceedings, defining the process of all things impeachment: public hearings, disclosure of deposition transcripts, and how evidence will be transferred to the House Judiciary Committee. This new process is meant to ensure, according to Pelosi's statement, complete transparency and seek to establish an open hearing format going forward.
In the first open hearing, three key players in the Ukraine scandal were tried: George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs; William “Bill” Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine; and Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Each testified in the first televised trial for Trump's impeachment inquiry. Testimonies will continue with various players and members of Trump's cabinet (past and present) throughout the week.