What is Impeachment and How Likely is it for President Trump?

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By Joshua Larkin, Staff Writer

This past Halloween, the United States experienced a political horror that the country would hope to never face: a possible impeachment of a sitting president.  While one may or may not wish President Donald J. Trump to be impeached, the idea of impeachment being on the forefront of American news is a worrisome idea. Talk of impeachment is popular in the media, but many Americans do not specifically understand what impeachment of a sitting president means.[1] In a recent poll from Business Insider, as many as 54% of respondents said they generally or thoroughly knew what impeachment was, but just 30% were able to correctly define the term.[2]

On September 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment investigation into President Trump based upon the allegations made in the now infamous whistleblower complaint.[3] The complaint made several accusations against the President, but the investigation chiefly surrounds a July 25 phone call between the President and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.[4] During this phone call, President Trump suggested to President Zelenskiy he should conduct an investigation into Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President and Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, who sits on the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas company.[5]  Pelosi cites these communications between President Trump and President Zelensky as the basis for impeachment because they display a “breach of [President Trump’s] constitutional responsibilities.”[6] However, with little guidance from our forefathers and legal precedent to reference, both lawmakers and laypeople alike are puzzled as to whether this behavior specifically calls for impeachment.

Perhaps the confusion surrounding impeachment is primarily due to its sporadic presence in the Constitution. In fact, there is so little on the topic, that the original idea the Framers had for impeachment is still unclear and debated today.[7] Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution plainly states, “the House of Representatives . . . shall have sole power of impeachment.”[8] Once the House votes to impeach the President, the Senate has “the sole power to try all impeachments.”[9] Here, the Senate will act as justices with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States presiding over the trial.[10]  If two-thirds of the Senate concur and convict the President of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,”[11] then the President shall be removed from office.[12]  If the President is impeached but ultimately not convicted, he shall remain in office.

The latest in impeachment proceedings was a vote held by the House of Representatives on October 31st to determine the official guidelines for a public phase of an potential impeachment.[13] The vote resulted in 232 Representatives in favor of the guidelines for impeachment and 196 against them.[14]  The resolution passed along party lines with the 232 in favor consisting of all Democrats and one independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican party earlier this year.[15] Those voting against the resolutions were all Republicans and two Democrats, with the latter consisting of Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Colin Peterson of Minnesota.[16] A vote to officially impeach the President has not occurred yet, but public hearings regarding impeachment inquiry began last week on November 13.[17]

The vote to uphold impeachment guidelines has received criticism and support from both aisles of the House. Republican House members insist the process is not fair, “nor was it ever intended to be¸” according to GOP Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.[18] Specifically, Republicans take issue with the fact that the initial hearings were held in private and they believe this gave Democratic chairmen, such as the Intelligence Committee’s Adam Schiff, leeway to stack the witnesses in their favor.[19] House Democrats remain mostly united and counter the Republican claim, saying hearings will be fair and televised so the American public may see.[20] Although, there are a few Democratic representatives that complained their caucus rolled out the resolution without adequately explaining the rationale behind it, though they ultimately backed it on the floor.[21]

Republicans have also called upon Speaker Pelosi for her change of view on impeachment from just months ago when she stated, “[i]mpeachment is so divisive to the country . . . I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country and [President Trump] is just not worth it.”[22]  However, after suggestions from House Democrats that President Trump asked President Zelensky to conduct the investigation for the benefit of his own 2020 campaign, Speaker Pelosi ultimately changed her view on the matter.[23] Speaker Pelosi has responded recently to calls for impeachment supporting them, claiming they do “not cause for any glee or comfort . . . [but] what is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”[23] Democrats claim the resolution spells out certain due process rights belonging to the President once the probe moves into the eyes of the public, but Republicans note those due process rights are illusory because they must be approved by Democratic Head of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York.[24]

While many are speculating the Democratic-led House will impeach the President, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says the Senate ultimately will not convict the President.[25] Democrats do not have the required two-thirds of the Senate to convict the President, so long as the vote were to remain rigidly along party lines as the House’s vote on October 31.[26]  The Senate is made up of 45 Democrats, two Independents and 53 Republicans.[27]  Unless Democrats were able to secure 21 more votes in the Senate during a potential trial, President Trump will remain in office. The GOP stands strongly behind Trump after the alleged Ukrainian phone scandal, and some predict that his escape of conviction may play a role in his reelection in 2020,[28] although there are still many who believe the Senate may move to convict.[29]

The President maintains his innocence and his stance that the impeachment inquiry is a hoax, but only time will tell how a pending impeachment plays out for the President, for the 2020 election, and for the country as a whole moving forward.[30]

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/most-americans-dont-understand-impeachment-poll-2019-6

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/timeline-trump-impeachment-inquiry-n1066691

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/what-the-founders-thought-about-impeachment-and-the-president

[8] U.S. Const. art. I, § 2

[9] U.S. Const. art. I, § 3

[10] Id.

[11] U.S. Const. art. II, § 4

[12] U.S. Const. art. I, § 4

[13]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/house-to-vote-on-rules-governing-next-phase-of-trump-impeachment-inquiry/2019/10/31/bc2f5e7a-fbcc-11e9-ac8c-8eced29ca6ef_story.html

[14] https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/31/politics/house-impeachment-inquiry-resolution-floor-vote/index.html

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] https://www.npr.org/2019/11/12/778215350/impeachment-hearing-faq-who-will-testify-and-how-the-questioning-will-work

[18] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/10/impeachment-house-trump/601213/

[19] Id.

[20] https://www.vox.com/2019/11/7/20953352/impeachment-open-hearings-democrats

[21] https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/31/house-takes-big-step-on-impeachment-with-vote-to-formalize-trump-probe-000311

[22] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry/timeline-trump-impeachment-inquiry-n1066691

[23] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/03/12/nancy-pelosi-trump-not-worth-trump-impeachment/3137736002/

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/politics/impeachment-vote.html

[25] https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/31/house-takes-big-step-on-impeachment-with-vote-to-formalize-trump-probe-000311

[26] https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/464978-graham-tells-pelosi-gop-wont-impeach-trump-over-ukraine-call

[27] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/what-does-high-crimes-and-misdemeanors-actually-mean/600343/

[28] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_United_States_Senate_elections

[29] https://www.axios.com/trump-impeachment-senate-republicans-178c6d1d-f75d-4e18-8edf-0ecd639cdf05.html

[30] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/10/11/senate-is-likelier-remove-trump-after-impeachment-than-you-think/

[31] https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1191701295951949825

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