The partisan divide has reached new heights in Washington, DC as House Democrats voted to approve two Articles of Impeachment against President Trump. Last week, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler released two Articles of Impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Articles of Impeachment are based on testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee led by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. According to many in the press, these hearings included bombshell reports, however closer inspection shows little evidence of anything close to high crimes and misdemeanors. Committee staff released a report focusing on the ways Democrats believe the President abused his power for personal gain. Ambassador Sondland’s testimony was one of the main points in the report because he testified that there was a quid pro quo between President Trump and Ukraine for investigations into Vice President Biden’s role in the firing of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor in exchange for a visit by President Zelensky to the White House and the release of military aid put on hold by the administration. While the report directly ties the quid pro quo to the military aid, Ambassador Sondland’s testimony only directly links the White House visit. Specifically, Ambassador Sondland said, “I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.” This admission of the use of a quid pro quo to get a foreign leader to help the United States in exchange for a meeting with the White House is common. Many foreign leaders want a coveted Oval Office meeting with the President of the United States, and it is an easy to use bargaining chip to advance US foreign policy. Moreover, the President in his December 17 letter to Speaker Pelosi wrote with regard to Ukrainian corruption issues, “…Ambassador Sondland testified that I told him: “No quid pro quo. I want nothing. I want nothing. I want President Zelensky to do the right thing, do what he ran on.”
The question at hand when members of the House of Representatives voted on the first Article of Impeachment, abuse of power, is whether the actions of the President were for personal benefit or to find sources of corruption. The second article, obstruction of Congress, is a specific form of obstruction of justice and Democrats believe the President directed subordinates to obstruct Congressional investigators. Normally obstruction of justice is an easy crime to prove, an individual cannot knowingly try to hinder an investigation either by the police or Congress, however the President has what is called Executive Privilege. Executive Privilege allows the President and his subordinates to decline subpoenas if the information being sought and allowed into public would hurt the national interest. The hearings led by Chairman Adam Schiff opened up the internal workings of this administration’s policy towards Ukraine and Russia and there would be good reason not to have US foreign policy dissected on the world’s stage, this will be an important point to follow in the Senate trial.
The votes last night fell largely by party lines with a few exceptions from some Democrats. Every Republican member of the House voted against impeachment, with many in the caucus speaking against the impeachment proceedings during the debate. Representatives Colin Peterson (D-MN-7) and Jefferson Van Drew (D-NJ-2) voted against both Articles of Impeachment while Congressman Jared Golden (D-ME-2) voted in favor of abuse of power but against obstruction of Congress. Congresswoman, and Democratic Presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2) voted present on both articles. The first article, abuse of power, passed 230-197-1 and the second, obstruction of Congress, passed 229-198-1.
Nearly 30 Democrats that voted in favor of impeachment represent districts that President Trump won in 2016 and these votes could make an impact in their 2020 elections. Already Congressman Van Drew, who sided with President Trump, has made it known he might switch parties because of the actions of his fellow Democrats, potentially make it easier for him to be re-elected in the fall.
These votes make President Trump the third president to be impeached, following Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1867 and Bill Clinton in 1998. It is important to point out that an impeached President is not removed from office, being impeached is very similar to being indicted in a criminal proceeding. The next step is the trial, which will be held by the Senate and could take most of January and possibly extend into February depending on how many witnesses are called and the amount of time it takes to question those witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is currently debating the specifics of how a Senate trial will proceed with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
For President Trump to be removed from office, two-thirds of the US Senate, or 67 members, must vote to convict him of at least one article of impeachment. Currently, the Senate consists of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with Democrats. This would require 20 Republican Senators to vote in favor of impeachment. This as very unlikely based on the evidence released so far, but impeachment will be a shadow that follows President Trump through the 2020 election where it will be the American people who get to choose whether or not to keep him as President.