Exactly What Is Impeachment Anyway?
With Donald Trump’s recent firing of FBI director, James Comey and the revelation that he shared highly classified information with the Russian government, calls for Donald Trump’s impeachment are growing more strident and frequent. Just last week, Rep. Al Green of Texas called for Trump’s impeachment from the House floor.
But exactly what is impeachment?
If you are anything like me, you most likely mistakenly conflated impeachment with removal from office. However, impeachment is the first step in the process which can lead up to an elected official’s removal from office. If anything, impeachment is more like a grand jury indictment. Any member of the house may introduce articles of impeachment but only the House Judiciary Committee is able to greenlight an actual impeachment vote. If the Judiciary Committee gives the go-ahead, the full house votes on the articles of impeachment. A two-thirds majority is required.
If the requisite votes are cast, the president is officially impeached but, wait for it, not removed from office. After impeachment, the president is put on trial in the Senate. While the House of Representatives serves as a grand jury of sorts, the Senate serves as the jury in a criminal trial. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the proceedings with the president being allowed to present a defense. A sitting president can only be removed from office with a two-thirds vote from the Senate.
As of this writing, only two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was removed from office. While Johnson was acquitted by only one vote, Clinton, who enjoyed high popularity throughout the crisis, didn’t even come close to removal.
What does that mean in today’s climate? It means that Donald Trump, deserving as he is, most likely will not be removed from office through an impeachment hearing.
I think a resignation is much more likely for several reasons.
First, the House Judiciary Committee is currently controlled by Republicans with none other than Jason Chaffetz sitting on the Committe until his recent resignation takes effect on June 30th. As of right now, the Judiciary Committee can squash any move for impeachment in the house.
Second, there simply aren’t enough votes for articles of impeachment to pass the House. The Democrats don’t control either chamber of the legislature and Republicans, who have reluctantly kissed Trump’s ring, are terrified of the “deplorables” who are still steadfast in their support of Trump and will not break ranks.
Third, public opinion in favor of impeachment hasn’t reached critical mass yet. Despite Trump’s historic lack of popularity, there still isn’t quite enough support for impeachment; while slightly less than half of Americans support impeaching Trump, about 53% of Americans supported impeaching Nixon — before the damning Watergate tapes were released.
However, the Republicans are probably nervous about the 2018 midterms, elections that almost always favor the party out of power. As the party in power, the Republicans are already at a disadvantage. The fact that the leader of the party is highly compromised, possibly to the point of criminality, makes the Republican grip on the legislature even more tenuous.
Anxious Republicans will most likely start quietly pressuring Trump to resign. First, to rid themselves of that rotting albatross hanging around their necks and second, to get Mike Pence, the man they really want, into the nation’s highest office.
On top of that, Trump is facing much more serious allegations than Johnson and Clinton did. Johnson simply refused to obey a law that was most likely unconstitutional and ended up being repealed anyway. Clinton lied about engaging in a sex act with a consenting adult. As such, the Johnson and Clinton impeachments were more the result of hostile Congresses operating under the rules of hyperpartisanship than Johnson’s and Clinton’s commission of “high crimes and other misdemeanors.”
Trump has more in common with Richard Nixon, who ultimately resigned rather than face impeachment. After all, Nixon also fired someone who was looking into whether or not he and members of his administration engaged in illegal activities. Being widely perceived as corrupt, Trump and Nixon were equally unpopular with everyday Americans and were both fiercely resisted by the Left.
I predict that Trump will step down sooner rather than later, probably by the end of the year. Trump is becoming a liability to the Republicans, the party that was never truly comfortable with him in the first place. And given Trump’s narcissism and extreme privilege, he most likely lacks what Jackie Brown’s Ordell Robbie referred to as a “doin’ time disposition.” Trump simply isn’t willing to risk jail time and will happily quit to avoid it.