Written by Dorinda Ma
On October 31st, the House of Representatives voted 232-196 to formalize the procedures of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. By formalizing the process and producing a full house vote, Democrats countered the Trump administration’s claims that the inquiry process has been secretive, unfair, and illegitimate.
However, is the process of impeachment worth it for the Democratic party? As the vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry has shown, views towards impeachment are deeply partisan. While all but two Democrats voting to formalize the impeachment inquiry, every single Republican House member voted against it. In order to formally impeach Trump, a house majority of 218 votes will also be needed. Assuming all votes are along party lines, there are currently enough Democrat-controlled seats at 235 to bring the matter to the Senate. Formally impeaching Trump, however, is not equivalent to removing him from office.
Impeachment is simply the process of filing formal charges against civil officers, not the act of removing them from office. The House Speaker first gives approval for an impeachment inquiry. Once the inquiry is formalized, House committees investigate and write articles of impeachment. For Trump, articles of impeachment might discuss extortion: Trump withheld aid money from Ukraine while pressuring Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden. They might also discuss a violation of election law. Articles that the House Judiciary Committee approve of are brought to the House to be voted on. If the majority of the House approves of an article, the president is impeached, and the Senate can vote to dismiss the charges or hold a trial to convict and remove the president.
Currently, there are 53 Republican-controlled seats in the Senate. A two-thirds majority would be needed to convict Trump. Assuming that all 47 Democrats vote for the conviction, at least 20 Republican senators must also vote for Trump’s removal in order for him to actually be convicted. During public impeachment hearings, would Republicans really be receptive to evidence against Trump and vote counter to party lines? It is possible that the Republican-majority Senate will vote to dismiss misdemeanor charges completely.
Additionally, is impeaching Trump the best course of action with the 2020 election fast approaching? He has served the majority of his term and has already brought the fears of the Democrats into fruition. Republican presidential nominee plans would be disrupted if he were impeached, but if the impeachment process is unsuccessful, the Democratic platform and their political priorities would be questioned in the upcoming election.
Of course, impeachment is the “right thing” to do if Trump is guilty of misdemeanors. The process will place evidence of wrongdoing in the public eye, taking over major news outlets. Impeachment, however, is a political, not a criminal process. It is vaguely defined as “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution. Impeachable offenses, in the words of Gerald Ford, are “what a majority of the House of Representatives considers to be at a given moment in history” and do not carry legal implications. If Trump is impeached, his removal from office will be considered, but an arrest is not necessarily on the horizon.
Trump’s impeachment would only achieve surface-level justice and give Democrats political ammunition against Republicans in the upcoming election. It will only serve to deepen party divides, continuing to fan the fire that results in extreme candidate nominations from both sides. Regardless of whether impeachment is the most strategically advantageous move for Democrats, the process has already been kicked into action and we will soon see the results.