Mikayla Weissberg Voices Editor
Julia Simon Community Editor
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is when Congress, which is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, decides that the president is no longer fit to be in office. The House has the power to impeach for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” However, that does not mean that when someone is impeached they are automatically removed from office. In order to be removed, the Senate must hold a trial against the president and decide if he should be convicted for his crimes.
How does a president get impeached?
The House has to have a vote where a simple majority (at least half) of the representatives are in support of the impeachment.
What is an impeachment inquiry?
An impeachment inquiry is the first step in the process of impeachment. It means that the House of Representatives will start conducting a formal investigation into the president, which is what the House is doing right now. If enough information is found, the House Judiciary Committee will write up articles of impeachment, and the entire House will vote on it.
Why did the Speaker of the House launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump?
On September 24, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially launched an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. On July 25, President Trump called Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urging him to conduct an investigation into Joe Biden (President Trump’s top competitor in the upcoming 2020 election) and his son, Hunter. In August, the Trump Administration began withholding military aid to Ukraine. On August 12, an anonymous whistle-blower, someone on the inside of a situation who calls out wrongdoing, filed a complaint about President Trump’s call with President Zelenskiy. This whistle-blower’s report, combined with the withheld military aid, was what caused the House to officially begin the impeachment process. President Trump is adamant that the withholding of aid had nothing to do with the investigation, but the House wants to make sure that the president is not bribing Ukraine with government money.
What could this mean for the future of the Trump Administration? For his 2020 campaign?
Because this investigation is based on an election-related scandal, the 2020 campaign is at the forefront of the inquiry. There are numerous ways the road to impeachment could lead.
- Impeachment never gets through the House. A simple majority is needed to pass impeachment in the House. If there are not enough votes, impeachment would not go through and President Trump would not be removed.
- Impeachment goes through, but President Trump is not removed from office. If the members of the House vote along party lines, which would mean that the Democrats all vote for impeachment and Republicans vote against, there would be enough votes to impeach. Democrats have a simple majority of the House (more than half of the seats). If enough House members vote for impeachment and President Trump gets impeached, the Senate goes to trial. Republicans have a Senate majority, so a likely outcome is that the Senate does not remove Trump from office.
- Both the Senate and the House vote to impeach and remove President Trump from office, but Vice President Mike Pence is not removed. Despite Pence’s possible involvement in the scandal, Vice President Pence would become the President of the United States until the term ends.
- Both the Senate and the House vote to impeach and remove President Trump and Vice President Pence from office. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is third in line for the presidency, meaning that, in this scenario, she would become the President of the United States.
Clinton, Nixon, and Trump?
In United States history, two presidents have officially been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton; and no president has been removed. A common misconception is that former president Richard Nixon was impeached due to his attempt to cover up the Watergate Scandal. In fact, Nixon resigned before impeachment because he knew that because of the circumstances surrounding his scandal, he would inevitably be impeached and removed from office (click here for a more in depth look at the Watergate scandal).
There are clear differences between Nixon’s and Trump’s cases. Trump is being questioned for allegedly committing a crime, whereas Nixon’s controversy was focused primarily on his cover-up of a crime. Robert Painter, a teacher in Milken’s Social Science/History Department at Milken, describes the conviction of government obstruction through the saying, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up!” Nixon was engaged in concealing the scandal, thus making him accountable for the crime whether or not he was involved in committing it. Because Trump’s case is more ambiguous, it is less telling whether or not he will be convicted. In fact, if he is impeached and not removed, Mr. Painter believes that Trump may be viewed as a victim, thus increasing his popularity, which was an effect of Clinton’s impeachment. Democrats fear Trump becoming a sympathetic figure, so the impeachment must be done very carefully if they would like to see the results they desire.