Congress has returned after its summer break and with it, the i-word Democrats have been utilising so generously since 2016: impeachment. And the House is seeking answers. On Thursday a roadmap for potential proceedings was finalised. Nonetheless, the chances of impeachment leading to Trump’s removal from office remain infinitesimal.
House Democrats have confirmed first formal steps to prepare an impeachment of President Trump. Jerry Nadler, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, confirmed that a panel approved impeachment parameters. These parameters equip the committee with extended capabilities to conduct an in-depth investigation.
The investigation will primarily focus on obstruction of justice and the violation of the Emoluments Clause. The latter prohibits the president from receiving any income or gift (beyond his government salary) from a foreign government, the US government or any foreign state. It has become the Democrat’s latest weapon of choice in their quest.
Questions have been raised surrounding, inter alia, unexplained stays of the American Air Force in Trump’s Scottish golf resort near Glasgow. The Pentagon has yet to comment. Then there was the stay of Vice President Pence in a Trump resort in Ireland, which is located approximately 300 kilometres from Dublin, where Pence conducted official appointments. According to President Trump, Pence’s family has been living in Doonbeg for many years and the Vice President simply sought to visit his family on his recent Europe trip. It contradicts Pence’s Chief of Staff, who, the previous week, had commented that the hotel had been selected on Trump’s suggestion. Words that provide Democrats with hope.
Prerequisite for impeachment are charges of “Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”, according to the US Constitution Article II, Section 4. The ambiguity in the wording is deliberate. It leaves significant room for interpretation and little to no incumbrance for proceeding to start. As a result, the term has been utilised excessively and every president since Ronald Reagan has at least been threatened with impeachment.
Nonetheless, it remains a two-step process, in which The House of Representatives acts as the prosecution while the Senate acts as the judge. First, the House has to authorise one of his committees – usually the Judiciary Committee – to conduct an investigation. If the committee concludes that there is sufficient evidence for wrongdoing, the findings are returned to the House which then votes by a simple majority on whether or not to impeach and on what grounds. The Senate then conducts a quasi court trial and votes on whether or not the president is guilty on the charges brought against him. It requires a two-thirds majority.
History has shown how complex and peculiar impeachment is. President Clinton and President Johnson were both impeached in the House. Yet, the Senate did not convict. Clinton’s case displays how reluctantly the Senate uses its power in this regard. Despite two counts of impeachment – perjury and obstruction of justice – as well as a Republican-controlled Senate, the needed majority was not established. It is evidence that, while it appears to be one of the most overused terms in uber-partisan American politics, the stakes remain extremely high when the presidency is at stake.
However, the Democrat’s conundrum is even more complicated. Democrats do not control the Senate. 53 of the 100 Senators are Republicans. Basic maths tells one that 67 votes are needed to obtain the required two-thirds majority. Even if all Democrats (45) and Independents (2) adhere the party whip, 20 Republicans are needed to convict President Trump.
It is why impeachment currently remains a purely symbolic move, without any consequences. Worse. A failed attempt would likely backfire against Democrats, as it provides Trump with new ammunition to invoke the victim card.
Time is also of the essence. If impeachment procedures were to be initiated, it would have to be conducted this autumn. A procedure of this magnitude amid the hot phase of the election campaign, may not hurt the president as much as it may be detrimental to the candidates.
Nonetheless, the Mueller Report did raise serious questions regarding obstruction of justice. And potential violations of the Emoluments Clause should not be disregarded either. But it requires Democrats to dig deep and present new evidence. Evidence that needs to be so unassailable that it would lead to a change of heart amongst twenty Republicans – the party in which Trump’s approval rating remains between 85-90 per cent.