What the impeachment inquiry means

By Tim Klapac, Senior Editor

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Sept. 24. While there has been discussion to impeach the president since he took office in 2017, this is an important step that needs explanation.

Pelosi is accusing the president of violating the Constitution by pressuring Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in a phone conversation that took place in July.

Upon the release of the transcript of this conversation, Democrats have called for an impeachment while Republicans maintain that Trump did not present a “quid pro quo” to Zelensky and did nothing wrong.

This is the moment Democrats have been waiting for since they gained the majority of the House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections. Every week, it feels like a new moment in the history of Trump’s presidency occurs and is grounds for impeachment, but the first shoe has finally dropped. The question is, will the other shoe drop as well?

As previously mentioned, Democrats have been calling for Trump to be impeached since his administration began, which can make this impeachment announcement feel stale. However, this is the first formal step in the impeachment process. 

According to Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, the process of impeaching the U.S. president begins when a lower house of legislature (in this case, the House of Representatives) brings charges against a civil officer (the president) for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The terms “high crimes and misdemeanors” can be viewed different ways, which makes impeachment difficult.

If the House of Representatives votes in favor, which only requires a simple majority, the president would be considered “impeached” and the proceedings would head to the Senate for a trial. 

Conviction of these crimes would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which is where Pelosi would run into problems. That would mean that if every Democratic senator voted in favor, 22 Repbulican senators would have to jump party lines and vote in favor as well.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) has already stated that the Senate would “have no choice” but to take up impeachment proceedings if the House voted to, but that is probably because McConnell knows a conviction is unlikely in today’s heavily divided political landscape. So why would Pelosi even bother with this?

Historically, impeachments have not resulted in the president being removed from office. The House has voted in favor of impeachment before, including Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. However, both were acquitted by the Senate and finished out their terms. Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 before an impeachment vote could begin in the House.

Pelosi was feeling pressure from those within the Democratic Party to launch the impeachment inquiry and if she refused to do so, it could have created a split within the party which could take moderate votes away from Democratic candidates. 

However, knowing this inquiry will not result in the president’s removal from office, Pelosi has given the president ammo to use in his re-election campaign.

Trump has never been one to shy away from his opponents and Pelosi has been near the top of the list. Trump has often accused Democrats of “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and this impeachment inquiry only reinforces that.

What many democrats are celebrating as an overdue wake-up call for President Trump, could become the very thing needed to ensure him a second term.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) accused Democrats of “trying to reverse the results of the 2016 election since President Trump took office.”

Impeachment proceedings will be looked at as another attempt to attack the president simply because Democrats don’t like him, which will rally the Republican party’s base and strengthen the president’s influence in the red states.

Given the timing of this announcement, it seems clear that Pelosi’s hand was forced from within her own party. Notable Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who is the head of the House Intelligence Committee, have previously called for Pelosi to begin the impeachment process.

If more details of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky emerge or something worse occurs within the administration, the chances of a successful impeachment may increase. But at this point, don’t expect Trump to leave office until he loses in 2020 or his second term ends in January 2025.

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