An impeachment proceeding is the formal process in which the sitting president of the United States may be accused of wrongdoing in some capacity. It is a quasi-political process and not a true criminal proceeding. Section 4 of Article 2 of the United States Constitution states that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The process begins in the House of Representatives, where any member may propose a launch of an impeachment proceeding. It is then up to the Speaker of the House, as leader of the majority party, to determine whether or not to proceed with an inquiry into the alleged wrongdoing. Committees within the house will then hear witnesses and decide whether or not to draft articles of impeachment which then are debated and put to a vote on the full house floor. This is where the recent vote comes into play.
Democrats have held a majority in the House of Representatives since the 2018 midterm elections, and since then impeachment has been on the minds of many both within the government and the American public. Democratic leadership has been wary about the subject in the past. Much earlier in the presidency of Donald Trump, the question of impeachment was first posed following the Mueller report, but nothing signifying true obstruction of justice was certain and Democratic leadership didn’t feel as though launching an impeachment inquiry was the right thing to do. Public opinion also showed a low favorability of impeachment at that time. Shortly after the release of the report in August of 2019 a poll from Politico showed 37 percent of voters believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump while 46 percent believe that Congress should not begin proceedings, leaving 16 percent of voters undecided.
However the Ukraine call and its fallout have flipped the script and led to a national majority in favor of impeachment. Democrats’ efforts gained traction after a whistleblower complaint about a controversial phone call’s transcript between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was released which many critics argued included a quid pro quo for political gain. After much debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal opening of an impeachment inquiry on September 24, citing what she called Trump’s “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections”. The full House voted on October 31 to authorize the inquiry, leading to the opening of formal impeachment proceedings.
Trump has called the inquiry the continuation of a “witch hunt” that has plagued his presidency from the beginning. He has constantly berated Democratic leaders about how he has done nothing wrong and how his presidency has been under fire from the beginning. Republican members of Congress have attacked the process as a sham that disregards the president’s due process rights and impedes his ability to conduct presidential duties and responsibilities. Republicans are likely to stand by the President through much of the impeachment process going forward. But what is this process and what does it mean for Trump and the country as a whole?
In the case of Donald Trump and the current impeachment proceedings, the House Intelligence Committee was tasked with the investigation into the phone call and any other vital information that would show President Trump acting outside his constitutional powers. Following this investigation, the matter was then turned over to the House Judiciary Committee where articles of impeachment were drafted and then passed by the committee. A simple majority of the members of the committee had to vote in favor of approving an article or multiple articles of impeachment in order to proceed to a vote by the full House. The House Judiciary Committee currently consists of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans; 21 votes in favor would yield a majority. House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress, on December 10. The articles are meant to address his abuse of power with Ukraine, and his obstruction of Congress by telling officials who were legally subpoenaed by Congress to not appear before House committees.
On the night of December 18, 2019, Donald J. Trump was officially impeached. By a vote of 230-197-4 on the first article, and 229-198-4 on the second, the articles of impeachment passed the House of Representatives and will be sent to the Senate for their consideration. President Trump has become one of only three sitting presidents to have been impeached, the others being Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868. This vote was split almost perfectly along party lines. Only 3 Democrats voted in opposition to impeachment, and not a single Republican voted in favor. This historic vote came after a full day of debate that focused primarily on opposing party members pleading for the opposition to join their side and “do what is right for our democracy.”
The Senate is now tasked with handling the impeachment trial, which is presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States. The Senate acts as a “jury” in the impeachment process and must vote on whether or not the president should be removed from office. To remove a president from office, two-thirds of the members (67 Senators) must vote in favor of removal. If the Senate fails to convict, a president is considered impeached but not removed from office, as was the case with both Clinton and Johnson.
The trial to be held in the Senate will likely fall along party lines just as the House vote did. The Senate currently sits with 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 Independents who usually vote with the Democrats. This means that a vote for removal is unlikely, but still possible. It may seem like a long shot, but some Republican senators are very opposed to President Trump and may be willing to vote for removal if the evidence provides for a “high crime or misdemeanor”. As the nation holds its breath, the American public can now only sit and wait to see how the Senate handles this impeachment trial with hopes that it will not add to this ever-growing disease facing our great nation: party polarization.