On December 18, 2019, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump. Then the holidays happened, and then escalating tensions with Iran began to take over the most recent headlines. So, what’s happening right now as a result of this impeachment, and what may happen over the next few weeks or months? Election Central brings you up to speed.
In December, the House brought two articles of impeachment against Trump. The first charged Trump with abuse of power for the phone call to the Ukrainian president, in which Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine (which Congress had already approved) unless the Ukrainian leader looked for dirt on Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The second article of impeachment charged the president with obstruction of justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. After a full day of debate on December 18, the House voted along party lines to impeach the president. (The first article passed 230 to 197, and the second passed 229 to 198.)
So what does any of this mean for Trump and his time as president? All the vote means is that now, Trump should face a trial in the Senate. At the trial, which will be presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, senators will serve as jurors, and members of the House will serve as prosecutors (known as “managers”). (This is all based on the Constitution’s instructions.) After the trial is completed, the senators will have a public vote. A two-thirds majority is required to remove the president from office, which has never happened before in our nation’s history. (Neither Andrew Johnson nor Bill Clinton lost such a vote in the Senate.)
But that’s about as far as the Constitution goes toward laying out specifics for the trial. Important details (such as whether or not to call witnesses, or how long their testimony should be) must be agreed upon by the majority of senators. You may not be surprised to learn that congressional Republicans and Democrats are already battling over these terms. For example, Democrats want to call key witnesses who are close to the president, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he doesn’t want any witnesses at all.
It might seem like everything rests in the hands of the Senate now, right? Not at this point. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–a Democrat and an outspoken critic of the president–has not yet handed the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, which must happen before the trial can begin. Pelosi says that she will wait to do so until she can be assured of a fair trial in the Senate. It’s a very visible political move by the Democrats, because it keeps Trump waiting in limbo for his trial to begin. Pelosi hopes that by doing this, she can convince some key Republican senators to allow witnesses. She is also holding off on naming House managers for the trial for the same reason.
Congress is on holiday recess until January 7. Once the legislative session begins again, the senators will need to agree on a start date for the trial. It’s still not certain when the trial will begin, but when it does, senators will work six days a week until it is completed. At that point, they will vote on both articles of impeachment. If Trump is convicted on either count (it doesn’t have to be both), he will be removed from office.