By Hazel Martello
This past month, the news cycle has been dominated by updates on Trump’s impeachment inquiry. While there’s been advocates for impeachment throughout Trump’s presidency, their arguments have been based primarily on accusations that Donald Trump obstructed justice throughout Mueller’s investigation. These have never resulted in serious attempts to impeach Trump. But the most recent allegations against the president, that he asked a foreign power to meddle with U.S. elections, has gained enough traction that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has officially initiated an impeachment inquiry.
This is only the fifth time in America’s history that an impeachment inquiry has been started, so it’s understandable how much attention it’s gained. The vast majority of House Democrats now support the current impeachment inquiry, and lately, it seems like the public agrees with them. With all this support for the inquiries, there’s been a lot of questions about impeachment in general. Below are answers to a few of the most important things for citizens to know about impeachment as this inquiry unfolds.
Who can be impeached?
Right now, the big question about impeachment is whether or not it can be used to remove Donald Trump from the office of the President. And usually, when we talk about impeachment, we talk about its ability to remove sitting presidents from office. But impeachment is about more than that. The purpose of impeachment is simply to remove corrupt or unfit politicians from power, and it can actually be used to remove any civil officer… provided they’ve committed an impeachment worthy offense.
What are grounds for impeachment?
We might be tempted to look to the constitution for this, but the criteria our founding fathers gave us for impeachment is just one sentence long (Article II Section 4). Government officials can be impeached if they’re convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Many interpreters of the impeachment clause turn to the Federalist Papers for answers. In one of his essays defending the constitution, Alexander Hamilton expands on impeachment, saying that even without being accused of a crime, a government official can be impeached for anything from abuse of power to concerns about misconduct in office. Anything seen as a conflict of interest or violation of the people’s trust can be impeachable.
Right now, the impeachment inquiry against Trump argues that when he asked Ukraine’s President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden (the front-runner in democratic primaries at the time), he committed several impeachable offenses. He put national security at risk by asking a foreign power to meddle in our upcoming election, he displayed a conflict of interest by using his power as president to urge the investigation of a political rival, and may have broken a campaign finance law.
What would a successful impeachment process look like?
There are two steps to the impeachment process as we discuss it today: the impeachment itself and the trial for the impeachment to decide if it leads to a removal from office. The first part, the power to impeach, happens exclusively in the House of Representatives. But even after an official is impeached, the Senate must hold a trial to decide to either acquit them of the impeachment allegations or to remove them from office.
For impeachment alone to happen we’d need to see the impeachment inquiry turn into a resolution for impeachment. That resolution would then have to pass through the House of Representatives through a majority vote. For the impeachment to result in removal from office, the Senate would then have to try the President, and by two-thirds vote, agree to convict him as guilty of the grounds of impeachment that the House of Representatives put forward.
Has anyone ever been impeached?
In all of the United State’s history, only 19 impeachment proceedings have resulted in impeachment. And less than half of those impeachments eventually resulted in conviction by the Senate and removal from office.
Impeachment inquiries have only been made against 5 presidents: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and now Donald Trump. Two (Buchanan and Nixon) were never impeached, and the two who were impeached (Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson) were later acquitted by the Senate.
We’re still waiting to see how Trump’s impeachment inquiries will turn out, but history may have given us a hint.
Is it likely for Trump to be impeached?
While it’s still unclear whether or not Trump will be impeached, it’s looking more likely everyday. With the majority of the house democrats and the public behind the inquiries, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising. That being said, it’s hard to imagine any possible impeachment of Trump being able to make it through a Republican dominated Senate trial, making it unlikely to see Trump out of office before 2020 (at the earliest).
One thing to take into consideration is whether the Democrats voicing support for the inquiry will translate to votes if a resolution comes to the House floor. There have already been 5 impeachment resolutions put on the House floor, and we’ve already seen inconsistency between what our reps are saying and how they’re voting. A prime example of this is the Illinois 1st District’s representative, Congressman Bobby Rush.
Congressman Rush has supposedly been supporting the impeachment of President Trump since May of this year, according to a statement from his office. But even as late as July, he’s continued to vote against any impeachment resolutions that other representatives have put forward. Bobby Rush has had a hold on the first district for 26 years, but his constituents should be weary of his inconsistent principles come the 2020 elections. Incumbent Congressman Rush is facing off in this election against young, progressive candidate Robert Emmons Jr.
Emmons Jr. runs on a campaign to end everyday gun violence, and has already pledged his support for impeachment if Trump beats his democratic challengers for re-election in the 2020 presidential election. Among Illinois’ congressional candidates, Emmons Jr.’s policies display one of the brightest visions for the future of chicago politics and the rest of Illinois. His political campaign has already demonstrated a commitment to its community and its values through town hall meetings, canvassing, and media interviews. Robert Emmons Jr.’s vision has already gotten him a number of endorsements from other democratic groups.
What can we do?
The decision to impeach may ultimately rest with our representatives, but our role as citizens is still key. It’s important that concerned citizens keep voicing their support for impeachment. This close to re-elections, representatives are acutely aware that they need to pay attention to their community’s interests if they want to be re-elected.
Even if the current impeachment process doesn’t result in any serious action against Trump, it may not be over. Especially if Trump gets re-elected, it will be important for the public to exercise their voice in local elections. It’s incredibly important that people who are concerned about our nation make sure to vote, volunteer, and make their voices heard in the 2020 elections! If nothing else, the impeachment proceedings should remind us of how interconnected our government is and that a vote cast to decide our community leaders could end up keeping a president in (or out of) office.
Originally posted at RobertEmmons.org. Re-posted with permission.
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