New Delhi: A week after impeachment proceedings were launched against US President Donald Trump, America’s political climate remains charged. With new revelations about the Trump-Ukraine row being made nearly every day, several political actors in the US are trying to formulate a coherent strategy to deal with the issue.
In the shadow of the impeachment proceedings, politicians from both sides of the aisle are using exaggerated rhetoric to comment on the political future of Trump. In contrast, the impeachment process is a relatively straightforward process, even if the associated politics often isn’t.
As the latest conflict in the US snowballs, ThePrint breaks down the impeachment procedure and looks at the stance of the various political stakeholders and their strategies.
The process followed for US president impeachment
The impeachment, or removal, of the US president is a four-step process.
Making the call to begin the impeachment process: This decision rests solely with the speaker of the US House of Representatives (Lower House). The speaker comes from the party with the majority of seats in the House. Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi currently occupies the chair.
Once the impeachment proceedings have been initiated, the case needs to be investigated. The speaker can choose whether to allow the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the case or to establish a new special committee for this purpose.
In the case of Donald Trump, Pelosi has tasked the House Judiciary Committee with this job. As Trump already faces investigations by five other House committees, Pelosi has asked them to continue their probes under the “umbrella of impeachment”. The findings of these five committees could also affect the fate of Trump.
Investigation and vote by House Judiciary Committee: Once the House Judiciary Committee completes its probe, it draws one or more articles of impeachment. And then the members of the committee vote on those article(s). A simple 51 per cent majority vote is required for the impeachment process to proceed.
Currently, the House Judiciary Committee consists of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans —21 votes are needed for a simple majority.
Vote by House of Representatives: The members of the House of Representatives then proceed to vote on the impeachment article(s). Here too, a simple majority is required for the impeachment to proceed.
At the moment, the House consists of 235 Democrats, 198 Republicans, one independent and a vacant seat — a total of 218 votes are required in this case for a simple majority.
If the article(s) receive a simple majority, the president has effectively been impeached by the House of Representatives.
Trial and vote by US Senate: After the House impeaches the president, the process moves to the Senate (upper house).
The Senate holds a trial to determine if the president is guilty. During this trial, members of the House act as prosecutors while senators act as jurors, and the trial is presided by the US Supreme Court chief justice.
Once the trial is over, a two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to convict and remove the president. Currently, the 100-member Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents — 67 votes are needed for a two-thirds Senate majority.
The president can be impeached only if the entire process is completed. Former US president Bill Clinton, for instance, was impeached by the House but the Senate didn’t convict him. As a result, he managed to keep his job until the end of his term.
How are various stakeholders approaching Donald Trump impeachment row?
As is apparent through the numbers mentioned above, a conventional understanding suggests it is highly likely that Donald Trump would be impeached by the House of Representatives but not the Senate.
The Democratic Party has a majority in both the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives — paving way for Trump’s impeachment as the likely scenario. But the Democrats are 20 short of the 67 votes required in the Senate to impeach him.
In view of this likely event, all stakeholders in US politics are mapping out their strategies.
White House: Unlike Bill Clinton’s approach, Trump’s team has discarded the idea of establishing an anti-impeachment dedicated war-room at the White House — for now at least.
According to a report in Politico, White House officials say Trump is acting like his own political strategist and communications director. At a legislative level, Trump’s outreach to Republican members in the House and Senate is being managed by Eric Ueland, director of White House’s legislative affairs. The report suggests that Trump’s strategy is to ensure the Republicans rally behind him and he doesn’t lose the support of over 20 senators from his party.
Trump is also using his social media to shape the impeachment debate on his own terms. After the proceedings were launched, Trump posted a video that “brought in 50,000-plus new donors and raked in $8.5 million in two days”, according to another report in Politico.
The Democrats: The basic allegation against Trump is that he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, and withheld military aid as leverage. But the past week has seen a flurry of other allegations emerge against Trump and his team.
This is dividing the Democrats into two camps.
One side, led by Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee chairman, is instructing the judiciary committee and the party members to narrowly focus on the Trump-Ukraine issue.
“Some want to prepare articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving and send them to the full House of Representatives by December, allowing the House to hold a floor vote on an impeachment before the new year,” notes a report in ABC News.
The other camp wants to widen the scope of the probe and investigate Trump and his team’s alleged criminal use of power during their dealings with the Australian prime minister and Italian and British intelligence officials.
The Republicans: The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has asked the party leadership and rank and file to get on the “same messaging page”. The House Republicans are going to be Trump’s “first line of defence” against the impeachment proceedings, and they want to ensure that a single message goes out.
Meanwhile, the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, has said if the House impeaches Trump, he would have no choice but to take up impeachment. “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a Senate rule on impeachment,” said McConnell.