To Impeach or Not Impeach: That is the Question

On Tuesday 16 July, Texas Democrat Al Green introduced Articles of Impeachment in the House of Representatives against President Donald Trump. Impeachment has been a long simmering issue and one that a fair amount of Democrats in the House even supported, except the one that mattered most, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

By late Wednesday 17 July, the Articles of Impeachment against President Trump had been voted to be set aside, or “tabled” by the House. In other words, the impeachment resolution had been killed. The vote to table the measure was along party lines, with all Republicans voting to table impeachment, and 137 Democrats voting to table it, with 95 voting against tabling.

Interestingly, this is the third time Representative Green has raised the issue of impeaching President Trump. The first time was in 2017 after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which one protester was run over and killed. 

Green brought it up a second time just one month later after President Trump said he wanted fewer immigrants from “sh*thole countries.

In both previous efforts, Green was shut down decisively with all members of the House, Republican and Democrat, voting to table, or “kill”, the impeachment measure. 

American governance is a complicated machine. Accordingly, it allowed Representative Green to introduce his Articles of Impeachment without too much fanfare and with only the tacit recognition of Speaker Pelosi this time. She remains a steadfast opponent of the impeachment of Donald Trump… for the time being. 

Representative Green was able to get his impeachment submitted by a measure in the House of Representatives called the “Question of Privilege”. According to Megan Lynch, the author of “Question of Privilege”, this is a “formal declaration by a Member of the House asserting that a situation has arisen affecting the House collectively, its safety, dignity and the integrity of its proceedings.”  

Much like the “Unite the Right” rally and the “sh*thole countries” comment before, Green apparently felt President Trump’s questionable Tweet last weekend in which the president said that four House female members of color could go back to their original countries if they didn’t like America (oddly, three of the four are American). But just prior to Greens introduction of his Articles of Impeachment, the House of Representatives voted to rebuke those Tweets and label them as racist. 

It’s important to note that once raised by a House member, and ruled valid by the speaker (as it almost always is), the “Question of Privilege”  supersedes everything else the House can do. It basically strong arms the House into a vote. This was used most recently in 2016 by Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio who wanted to impeach the then IRS Commissioner John Koshkinen (that was also tabled). Prior to that by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich in a move against Vice President Dick Cheney in 2007 (also tabled).

While we’re on the subject of impeachment, there seems to be a misunderstanding about what impeachment actually is. While it can lead to someone being fired, historically, that has yet to happen… at least to a sitting president. Even Americans believe that if a President is impeached, they’ll lose their job. And it’s easy to understand where that originates. 

According to Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While treason and bribery are rather easy to define, high crimes and misdemeanors is a little more amorphous. 

Of course, it’s true that a president can be removed from office through impeachment. It’s worth noting that the process is rather laborious legislatively and requires a fair amount of political maneuvering. It begins in the House of Representatives. If the House votes in approval of the Articles of Impeachment, it would then move to the Senate.

Once there, the individual facing impeachment would be put on trial before the full 100 member Senate. The trial would be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In order for the person to be impeached, and effectively removed from office, there must be a “supermajority” vote of the Senate (67 out of 100). 

In fact, only three American presidents have ever been impeached – Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton – and only two have been brought to trial in the Senate – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Johnson for his handling of post-Civil War matters, Nixon for Watergate and Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. While all three Presidents were impeached by the House of Representatives, Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate and finished out their respective terms. 

After Nixon was impeached by the House of Representatives he knew he faced losing in the Senate, as a result of his continued deceit over Watergate. Rather than face conviction there he decided to resign the presidency. It’s because of that, it seems as though the presumption is that impeachment equals termination and that’s just not historically been the case. 

For now, President Trump appears to have dodged another bullet. Representative Al Green doesn’t seem to have suffered any political damage from bringing his third Articles of Impeachment charge against President Trump in two years and it’s unlikely he will. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t appear to have felt any repercussions and it’s unlikely she will.