• Civics Junkie

What is Impeachment? Why and What's Next?

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made history this week announcing to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. We’ve heard about impeachment, but what does it mean and what are the processes?

Basically, impeachment is the proceedings that allow Congress to remove presidents before their term is up. The Constitution permits impeachment if enough lawmakers vote that the President committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The process of this removal, however, is very expansive. So much so that 2 other presidents have been impeached in the past without success. Congress actually tried to impeach President Andrew Johnson TWICE! Once in 1867 and a second time in 1868. And more recently, President Bill Clinton went through impeachment hearings in 1998 – both were acquitted by the senate.

So let’s talk about the process…and where we’re at now.

1. The House Judicial Committee holds an investigation and makes a recommendation for articles of impeachment to the full house.

That’s what Nancy Pelosi announced on 9/24/19. Essentially, Democrats are claiming that he used the power of his influence (as a high-ranking officer) to intimidate Ukraine into helping him obtain information about a political opponent (Former Vice President Joe Biden). They claim that he withheld aide funding in exchange for this information, which is problematic because it jeopardizes their relationship and positions the United States with a multitude of risks including, bribery and election interference.

The House of Representatives has two options on how to proceed. They can setup a special panel or hold a floor vote to proceed, but it requires a majority to impeach – which is essentially an indictment.

2. The Senate holds a trial which is overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. The lawmakers from the House of Representatives are referred to as “Managers” and act as prosecutors. President Trump will have a defense team (paid for by tax payers). The senate will act as the jury.

John Roberts was appointed to the Supreme Court in September 2005 by President George W. Bush. He was initially nominated to be an associate justice to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor, but was instead nominated to fill the Chief Justice position upon the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the highest-ranking office of the Federal Judiciary. Roberts has been a key swing vote in many major decisions. He is regarded for his conservative judicial philosophies but also works with the liberal bloc. This is interesting since Roberts and President Trump butted heads in November 2018. President Trump described a jurist who ruled against his asylum policy as an “Obama judge”. When asked, Roberts clapped back with "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them."

3. The Senate acts as the jury for the President’s impeachment trial. Prosecutors need 2/3 vote to remove the President of the United States.

Since there are 100 Senators of the United States, they will need 67 votes to successfully impeach the President. Currently the 116th Congress (2019-2021) is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. So, in theory if the prosecutors held all democratic senators, they would need to swing 22 Republicans/Independents. As we stated earlier, that is not an easy task. Both previous impeachment proceedings have failed to remove the president.

4. If the President is found guilty by 67 senators, then he is removed and replaced by the Vice President of the United States, which in this scenario is Vice President Mike Pence

So, why is all of this important?

First and foremost, if the allegations are found to be true, Trump’s actions put the United States at risk.

  • Had this information not been exposed, Ukraine would have had a big secret to hold over Trump’s head and could have positioned him for dangerous bribery or extortion situations.

  • Also, Americans are very weary of the democratic election process already given the uncertainty surrounding the 2016 election.

  • Accusing President Trump of jeopardizing the legitimacy of the election by using foreign governments to obtain competitor information reinforces the claims of corruption and illegitimacy of the 2016 election from Democrats.

  • The President is meant to be the voice of the people and working for the people. These accusations portray the opposite of that and raise concern that the welfare of Americans is not be served to the best of his ability.

If the allegations are found to have no merit, there are still ramifications of impeachment proceedings.

  • Perception is everything. From an optics perspective, being impeached looks super bad. The fact that there was enough speculation to rally the House to impeach puts the President's ethics, judgement and abilities in question with his base, opposition, fellow lawmakers and foreign diplomats.

  • Impeachment proceedings are expensive. From investigations, to litigation and strategy on both sides of the aisle, there are a lot of costs involved that impact tax payers directly. With a nearly $1 trillion deficit, perhaps this isn't the best use of tax-payer money.

  • President Trump has expressed his desire to run for a second term. This impeachment will definitely serve as a distraction to his campaign and his party making that run for a sophomore term even harder.

Is this the “greatest witch hunt” of our generation as President Trump claims? Or is it exposing a man trying to manufacture bias and leverage government policies, relationships and money for personal gain?

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