On the same day House Democrats unveiled two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, he is scheduled to hold a “Keep America Great” campaign rally in a swing county in this swing state.
Trump will probably talk about impeachment during the event in Dauphin County, so here’s what you need to know about what’s happened so far, what it all means, and what happens next:
Impeachment refers to how Congress has the power to determine of a president should be removed from office, as outlined in the Constitution.
When drafting the Constitution in 1787, the founders met at Independence Hall and discussed how to create a system of checks and balances, including for the office of the president. The option of impeachment was designed to protect the country from abuses of power.
Impeaching the president is not the same as removing the president from office. We’ll get to that later.
Describing the executive branch in Article II, the Constitution reads: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
“High crimes and misdemeanors” is a pretty broad description, so leaders have interpreted it differently.
In the Federalist Papers of 1788, part of the effort to persuade states to ratify the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton defined impeachable crimes as “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
Mostly, Congress gets to decide what kind of wrongdoing would be a gross abuse of power.
The articles are charging documents based on the evidence presented in the recent committee hearings in the House of Representatives.
Those witness testimonies led Democratic leaders on Tuesday to accuse Trump of violating the Constitution by pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress when it attempted to investigate the Ukraine allegations.
Abuse of power, according to House Democrats, refers to Trump’s using his position as president to benefit himself.
“It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the power of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit, while ignoring or injuring the national interest,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold E. Nadler (D., N.Y.) said. “That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election, thus damaging our national security, undermining the integrity of the next election and violating his oath of office to the American people.”
Obstruction of Congress, according to House Democrats, refers to how Trump did not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, including instructing the White House and other executive branch officials to defy subpoenas seeking documents and subpoenas to testify during the hearings.
This does not mean Trump will be removed from office. Instead, the articles mean House Democratic leaders believe there is enough evidence to justify formal charges of impeachment.
The House Judiciary Committee will vote on the articles and then the entire House will need to vote. For Trump to be impeached, a simple majority (that would be 218 out of 435 House members) must vote to impeach the president, a threshold the Democratic-controlled House is expected to reach.
Once that happens, it is passed over to the Senate for a trial. This is a political process and not a criminal trial, but the House’s announcement of articles of impeachment could be compared to a grand jury indictment.
The Republican-led Senate will evaluate the charges in the articles of impeachment (abuse of power and obstruction of Congress) and essentially decide whether to “convict” the president of these wrongdoings or “acquit” him.
In order to remove the president, a super-majority of senators must vote to convict, meaning 67 senators must agree. If not, the process ends.
If the Senate convicts Trump on even one of the two charges, he would be removed from office and Vice President Mike Pence would become president. The Senate could also ban Trump from running for public office again.
Tuesday’s announcement from Democratic leaders makes it almost certain Trump will be impeached, but it is extremely unlikely that the president will be removed from office. While presidents have been impeached, no president has been impeached, convicted, and removed from office.
Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached but acquitted by the Senate, meaning they stayed in office. Richard Nixon resigned before the House could impeach him.
For Trump to be removed, 20 of the 53 Republican senators would essentially need to defect from their party and side with their Democratic colleagues in favor of removing him from office.
A whistle-blower alleged that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. You’ve been hearing the phrase “quid pro quo” because also at question was whether Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine until Zelensky opened those investigations.
This whistle-blower complaint spurred the impeachment inquiry.
Trump has called the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt” and denied pressuring Ukraine. He reiterated that Tuesday on Twitter:
If you have more questions about impeachment, or anything else, you can ask through The Inquirer’s “Curious Philly” portal.