The Impeachment Process Has Officially Begun

"The president must be held accountable, no one is above the law," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.

People Have Been Talking About Impeaching Trump For Years — This Time Is Different
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After months of internal arguing among Democrats over whether to impeach President Donald Trump, the dam is finally breaking in favor of trying to remove him from office. The Washington Post reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would announce a formal impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, following a bombshell report that Trump illegally asked Ukraine’s government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his political opponents. (He essentially admitted to having done so over the weekend.)

“Now that we have the facts, we’re ready,” Pelosi said Tuesday morning at a forum hosted by The Atlantic. At 5 p.m. the same day, she was back with more. "The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution, especially when the president says Article Two says I can do whatever I want," referring to the segment of the Constitution that defines the power of the executive branch of the government. Pelosi's message was that checks and balances of those branches are just as central to the Constitution. And one more thing: "Today, I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," she said at a conference broadcast on Twitter by the Huffington Post.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and the left wing of the party have emphatically called for Trump’s impeachment since April, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his report detailing how Trump and his team welcomed help from Russia in the 2016 presidential election and then attempted to obstruct the Justice Department’s investigation into those actions. But Pelosi has held back, afraid that she didn’t have enough votes to follow through on the move and that it could be politically detrimental to some of the more moderate and vulnerable members of her caucus.

Pelosi has reportedly been calling members since Monday night to gauge their support and whip votes, and by Tuesday afternoon support had exponentially built in the House to move forward on impeachment. Multiple high-ranking Democrats came out in favor of impeachment, as did nearly a dozen moderate Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who had previously been quiet on the matter or outright opposed — a sign that even the more conservative wing of the party is seeing an urgent need to take the boldest possible stand against the president.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), a significant holdout whose district voted for Trump in 2016, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that if Trump has “violated” the trust of the American people, he must go. “If the facts are corroborated, that violation, and my understanding of its implications, has led me to come to the conclusion that the President has committed an impeachable offense.”

A senior Democratic staffer in the House texted me Tuesday morning that the caucus is ready to make a move.

So, what would that move be? Impeachment is the process by which Congress can accuse and convict a president of a crime and subsequently remove him from office. The House must have a simple majority — 218 votes — to approve a resolution of impeachment. Then, the Senate begins trial proceedings, over which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides, either to convict or acquit the president. The Senate ultimately needs two-thirds of its members to vote to remove a president from office, at which point the vice president would take his place.

They received an emphatic push in that direction Tuesday evening when, according to Bloomberg reporter Steven T. Dennis, the Senate unanimously agreed to call on Trump to hand over the whistleblower complaint that began this conversation about Ukraine in the first place. (Last week, The Washington Post reported that a U.S. intelligence officer anonymously alleged that the president had made very concerning “promises to a foreign leader,” a complaint which the director of national intelligence declined to take up the flag pole. The full record of this complaint, including transcripts of the president’s calls with the Ukrainian leader, are certainly a feather in the cap of Dems ready to kick off impeachment proceedings.)

To that point, Speaker Pelosi added Tuesday evening, "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections." But that doesn't mean he's immediately out the door. The impeachment process is difficult by design and has never been completed in U.S. history. The House has sent two presidents to impeachment trials, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, but the Senate later acquitted them both.

Moderate Democrats in the House, and particularly the 31 Democratic members whose districts voted for Trump, have until now calculated that it’s politically safer for them to let the voters oust Trump in 2020 than to try and do it themselves — especially considering the high probability that the Republican-controlled Senate would acquit him. But the clock is ticking: The longer they wait to move on impeachment, the bigger the threat that it will coincide with the Iowa caucuses in February and heavily influence the Democratic presidential primary.

Whether or not Trump is ultimately removed from office, voting on whether to impeach a president is a powerful and meaningful move. It would mean that Democrats are willing to take an ethical stand against crimes by the president to protect the integrity of the office and American democracy, regardless of political consequences. And it would force Republicans either to defend or condemn Trump, on the record, ahead of a crucial election that could flip control of the White House and Senate.

The next few months are about to get really interesting.

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