Trump Impeachment — Understanding The Process and What it Means
For almost two years now, there has been talk about a Trump impeachment. While impeachment is possible, and some would say likely in this case, now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, oftentimes Americans confuse ‘impeachment’ with a president’s removal from office.
It’s important to understand exactly what impeachment would mean. Should Robert Mueller issue a report clearly indicating that President Trump broke one or multiple laws which are detrimental to his position in power, then the Democrats in the House will almost immediately file articles of impeachment. If 218 or more of the 435 representatives in the House decide it’s time to formally level charges against Mr. Trump, he would effectively be impeached.
The U.S. Constitution defines an impeachable offense as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Just what are considered “high crimes and misdemeanors,” are not defined. However, most legal scholars believe this could be practically any crime, especially those which may have an impact on the president’s ability to lead or the trust that the American people have in his/her leadership.
In 1970, then House Minority Leader Gerald Ford defined the criteria for impeachment as follows: ”An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Now it’s important to understand, that being impeached doesn’t mean being removed from office. In fact, in our 242 year history as a nation, only two presidents have ever been impeached, Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton. Neither of these two men were removed from office. Here’s why:
Once a president is impeached by a simple majority vote in the House, they are put on trial in the Senate. The Chief Justice of the United States resides over the hearing, as both sides argue their cases. Once final arguments are complete, the Senate must vote to either convict or acquit. Now here’s the reason why it’s so difficult for a president to be convicted. A total of two-thirds vote in the Senate (67 votes) are require to convict. In a hyper-partisan environment like we are in now, convincing 18-20 Republicans to throw their party leader out of office is no easy task. While each Senator is supposed to act as a juror in a trial, unlike in a regular criminal trial the prosecution and the defense are not permitted to remove these ‘jurors’ because of bias.
While it may seem like a long shot to consider 20 GOP senators voting to throw Trump out of office, one also needs to consider that it will all depend on both the charges and their circumstances at the time. Any Senate trial would likely take place at the end of 2019 at the earliest and the end of 2020 at the latest. There will be a total of 21 Republicans up for re-election in November of 2020, while only 11 Democrats will be fighting for their seats in this same election. If Trump’s popularity is in the gutter and a strong case is made to the public, it is very possible, if not likely, that many of these 21 GOP incumbents will find that they must decide on whether to convict the president or give up their seats in Congress.
It is also important to note that if the president is acquitted in the Senate hearing he can still be charged by the DOJ or a specific State once he is out of office.