Everybody has an opinion about the impeachment investigation into Donald Trump. As officials testified on Capitol Hill, people argued the information they provided was more than proof of the president’s duplicitousness and dishonesty How could the Democrats do anything other than hold a vote to impeach him? Alternatively, people bought into the argument of the…
How could the Democrats do anything other than hold a vote to impeach him?
Alternatively, people bought into the argument of the president himself, that the proceedings were part of a witch hunt Democrats had been pursuing since he surprisingly beat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
How could anyone impeach the president, they argued, based on a bunch of second-hand information and hearsay?
Democrats have a strong hand
House speaker Nancy Pelosi was for months reluctant to push for impeachment, knowing how divisive the issue would be. Indeed, had it not been for the emergence of a whistleblower complaint about Mr Trump’s July 25 phone call to the president of Ukraine, they would likely not have launched a formal probe. Given the weight of evidence and pressure in her party, Ms Pelosi felt little option but to press ahead. She and Adam Schiff, chair of the House intelligence committee, have tried to present their effort as non-partisan, but all impeachments are political. They cannot be anything else.
Republicans do not have a strong defence
Partly because Mr Trump himself and top aides such as Mick Mulvaney, have admitted large parts of the accusations levelled against him – that he asked Ukraine to launch an anti-corruption probe into Joe Biden in return for military aid and a state visit – Republicans have had little to fight with. Instead, they spent most of the past month arguing about process and trying to distract people with conspiracy theories, rather than trying to defend his actions.
Impeachment will most likely happen in the House
Ultimately it will come down to a numbers game, in which Democrats have an upper hand. It is most likely articles of impeachment would be brought before the House judiciary committee, where Democrats have a majority, for a vote. The entire House would then be asked to vote. The measure only needs a simple majority for Mr Trump to be censured. Ms Pelosi, a master strategist, would not allow a vote without being sure she had the votes in her pocket.
Timing is crucial
Democrats want this whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible, so they can get back to focussing on the 2020 election. Republicans, who would love the impeachment investigation to distract from the Democrats’ primary election, would like the opposite. Unless they decide to delay the process in order to hear evidence from people such as John Bolton, a vote on the House vote would probably happen sometime in the last two weeks of December. In short, it is most likely the president will be impeached by the House by the end of the year.
Then what happens?
This is a big question. Knowing the need for there to be a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict him and force him from office, Mr Trump is counting on loyalty, and tough voting discipline, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. If the upper chamber votes on party lines, Mr Trump would be spared, and return to the White House and seek reelection. Plenty of reports suggest Senate Republicans would like to drag out the trial long into 2020 to mess with the aforementioned Democratic primary,
But that might not happen. Republicans have so far been nightly loyal to Mr Trump, partly our of fear of being attacked by him, and partly out of fear of his most fervent supporters organising primary challengers in their districts.
That could rapidly shift if senior Republicans feel the base no longer supports Mr Trump, much as what happened when the winds began to change for Richard Nixon all those years ago. In such circumstances, he might be persuaded to stand aside – unlikely – or Republicans might vote to remove him and make Mike Pence the president.
The chance of that happening would soar if a handful of disaffected Republican senators pushed for a secret ballot that would give cover to them and others. Republican adviser Juleanna Glover wrote in Politico this week: “A secret impeachment ballot might sound crazy, but it’s actually quite possible. In fact, it would take only three senators to allow for that possibility.”
With Mr Trump gone, and Mr Pence in the Oval Office, all things are possible. Going into 2020, the new president could count on the support of the party establishment and evangelical Christians, but it’s hard to see Trump’s diehard fans would be as enthusiastic, especially given Mr Pence such a figure of the Washington establishment, despite his assertions otherwise.
It may be Mr Pence could find himself challenged by another Republican such as John Kasich or former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, at the party’s summer convention. Ms Haley has been promoting a book, called With All Due Respect. That might be her diplomatic way of saying “watch this space”.