Impeachment has never finished off a president. A shambolic process that doesn't kill Trump might simply make him strongerby Sam Tanenhaus / December 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Impeachment, the procedure whereby Congress brings what are in effect criminal charges against the president for abuse of office and breach of constitutional law, is the most radical feature of America’s constitutional system and so seems custom-fitted for the most radical of American presidents. The case against Donald Trump seems clear: he abused the power of his office and violated US election law and the Constitution by pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to assist in Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. The US president asked Zelensky to “do us a favour” by contriving a corruption inquiry into former Vice President Joe Biden, on the basis of Biden’s son Hunter’s position on the board of Ukraine’s largest natural gas firm. At the time, the elder Biden was the top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, ahead of Trump in polls.
Before the formal impeachment proceedings against Trump had begun, many in Washington were confident of the outcome. As Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, authors of the addictive Politico Playbook daily email, wrote on the morning of day one of the formal hearings: “we all have a pretty good idea how this movie is going to end: a nearly party-line vote, with almost every Democrat voting to impeach the president, and nearly all Republicans voting against it. ”
The process to remove a president has multiple stages. First, the House of Representatives votes to initiate proceedings. Next, select House committees hold investigative hearings with witnesses brought in for close questioning. If the House goes on to draft articles of impeachment, in effect a criminal indictment, the full House then votes on them. Since the Democrats are in the majority in the House, Trump looks set to be impeached.
But impeachment is only half the game. Next comes the vote in the Senate, which acts as a courtroom and jury. Its 100 members conduct their own investigation and then vote whether to convict (remove the president) or acquit (let him finish his term). A two-thirds majority, 67 out of 100 senators, is required for removal of the president. And that is where the complications begin. Republicans now hold a 53-47 advantage in the Senate; 23 of those Republicans are up for reelection in 2020. For all but one or two,…