Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump Sept. 24. The decision, which House Democrats have been wrestling with for months, comes after allegations that Trump abused his power. Kayla Glaraton writes on the inquiry and what it means for the nation.
It seems the word “impeachment” has been sitting in the back of the nation’s mind since Nov. 8, 2016. For nearly three years, Americans have been watching Trump’s actions to see if he would ever commit an impeachable offense. When Democrats took control of the House in 2018, people began to wonder if they would use their majority to start an impeachment trial.
Drawing up articles of impeachment against a president is a rare, elusive occurrence. Successfully removing Trump would be historical. Only two United States presidents have been impeached: Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither were removed from office. President Richard Nixon resigned before his impeachment proceedings could take place.
Pelosi’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry does not mean Trump is being impeached. It is simply the first step the House must take in the impeachment process, the role given to them in the Constitution. Before articles of impeachment can be presented to and voted on in the House, they need to know if a crime has occurred.
First Step in a Long Process
There is a reason Pelosi has been hesitant to start a formal inquiry until now. Removing a president from office, no matter how necessary, is disruptive. An impeachment trial would become the sole focus of the nation, even more so because Trump is up for reelection in 14 months.
In the previous two presidential impeachments, the primary investigation was done by the House Judiciary Committee. Pelosi has directed six committees to proceed with current investigations, “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” The committees’ findings will presumably be sent to the Judiciary Committee for final review.
The inquiry could lead to articles of impeachment being drawn up or it could lead nowhere. If articles are brought up to the full House, there will then be a vote. If the majority of representatives vote to impeach Trump, the matter will then pass to the Senate. Democratic control of the House does not guarantee any article would pass, but it is looking more possible every day.
The actual trial would take place in the Senate with the chief justice of the United States presiding. The Constitution did not establish any rules for the actual trial. Instead, the current Senate must pass a resolution laying out the rules.
In order for the president to be removed, two-thirds of the senators, acting as jury members, must find them guilty. The president is not allowed to appeal and the vice president would then take over. The Senate is currently controlled by the Republicans, making the success of an impeachment trial unlikely.
Ukraine Call: High Crimes and Misdemeanors?
The final straw for Pelosi and other House Democrats more reluctant to start an official inquiry was Trump’s actions concerning Ukraine. An unknown whistleblower from the intelligence community filed a complaint Aug. 12 that raised concerns about Trump’s conversations with a foreign leader.
Trump later acknowledged that he had discussed former Vice President Joe Biden with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. A transcript of the July phone call was released Sept. 25. It was believed by many that the president wanted Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son for corruption.
It was also revealed that $391 million in aid for Ukraine from the United States was frozen days before the phone call happened. According to the released transcript, the frozen aid was not brought up by Trump. It is not known if Zelensky knew the funding from the United States was halted.
However, the president potentially using aid to pressure a foreign leader into investigating a political rival is concerning enough that House Democrats decided to move forward with an impeachment inquiry. It is up to Congress to decide what is an impeachable crime. All the Constitution says is that a president can be removed for, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Impeachment is a Test of Will
As of Sept. 25, 209 representatives support the impeachment inquiry and 137 do not. If this inquiry turns into a full-blown impeachment trial, the final factor will be the will of Republican senators. For Trump to be removed from office, 22 of the 53 Republicans senators would have to go against their party.
This would require Republican senators to forget about the next election. They would need to put aside their alliance to the party and focus on their oath to defend the Constitution. It does not look like many senators would flip. However, it is impossible to know if the trial will be successful or not because investigations are still ongoing.
It would not only challenge Republican senators. Trump’s biggest success as president has been dividing the nation. His words and policies are so inflammatory that he either drives critics further away or brings his supporters closer. In response to the inquiry, the president tweeted that it was, “a total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats!”
The very idea of impeachment divides the nation. The trial would be a long and difficult one. The conclusion would be frustrating and not every American would be satisfied. This is something the writers of the Constitution recognized over 200 years ago, as shown in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers.