Logging onto Twitter this week, one term was ringing loud and clear: Impeachment. Or, as Lizzo, the queen of legitimately everything, put it:
— |L I Z Z O| (@lizzo) September 24, 2019
It seems like everyone is following American politics, from the lady who gives us the “Juice,” to Chrissy Teigen, to the rest of us on both sides of the border. We’re all talking about impeachment—and for good reason. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (a badass and fashion icon in her own right), announced on September 24 that the House Democrats will be launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over charges that he betrayed his oath of office and jeopardized the country’s security by turning to a foreign power to smear a political rival. This comes after reports that Trump was pressuring the President of Ukraine to investigate Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his son. Oh, and he also may have *potentially* promised military aid in exchange for any dirt on them.
If you’re anything like us, you probably have a few questions. Like, first of all—what in the actual eff is impeachment? And will Trump really be removed from office? Here’s what you need to know.
What is impeachment?
An impeachment is the approval of formal charges against a federal officeholder, like the President or Vice President, who are accused of committing a crime. An impeachment inquiry is essentially a formal investigation by the House of Representatives into the actions of said official, and to determine if formal charges should be made. The actual impeachment process is complicated AF, but is broken down here.
What does Nancy Pelosi have to do with it?
As the Speaker of the House, Pelosi—who is third in line to the presidency and a Democrat—occupies a central role in the government and is the most authoritative spokesperson for the Democrats, who currently hold the majority in House of Representatives. Pelosi made the announcement of a formal inquiry into Trump after a whistleblower alerted officials to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President admitted to speaking with the president, asking the world leader to help investigate Democratic candidate Biden. Biden—Barack Obama’s former vice president, who has gone from everyone’s precious grandpa to kind of a creep on the campaign trail—may seem like a tenuous connection to Ukraine, but it’s *actually* his son that’s the connection. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his VP dad was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kiev in 2014.
It’s very complicated, but the crux of the issue is that in March 2016, Biden called for the ousting of top Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin for failing to investigate corruption in the Ukrainian government, in exchange for $1 billion in U.S aid, and Shokin was fired.
In Trump’s phone call—of which transcripts have since been released—Trump raised “unsubstantiated allegations” that Biden called for Shokin’s removal as a means to interfere with an investigation by the prosecutor into Biden’s son. Trump then asked the world leader for information on the investigation in to Biden’s son. (FWIW, while the timing of Biden’s involvement with firing Shokin was iffy, there’s been no indication of wrongdoing on either end.)
Days before the phone call with Ukraine, Trump reportedly ordered advisors to freeze more than $391 million in aid for the country, and this move prompted speculation that Trump was using this money as leverage for info.
I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign. #ExposeTheTruth pic.twitter.com/ilXmn2HqVa
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) September 25, 2019
As Pelosi said in her announcement of the inquiry: “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
OK, but Trump has done many things that seem above the law—why now?
If you’ve been following Trump since his election, the uproar around this latest scandal initially sounds really repetitive. The guy has said *a lot* of seriously horrible things: remember that whole “grab them by the pussy” convo? Or the recent rape accusation by journalist E. Jean Carroll? Not to mention the whole scandal about the Russian government interference in the last U.S. election, and the fact that Trump essentially tried to thwart an investigation into his own conduct by firing the head of the FBI.
So, why was this Ukraine phone call the straw that broke the camel’s back?
“The biggest key difference is that this is a much simpler story,” says Matthew Lebo, chair of the political science department at Western University in London, Ont. Especially compared to the Russian scandal. “Theres no doubt that Russian officials were in contact with members of the Trump campaign…but how much Donald Trump as a candidate was involved, was really difficult to figure out,” he says. In comparison, with the Ukraine scandal, “You have a phone call, you’ve got some conversations, you have the President admitting on television that he did have these conversations and he did talk to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden, so it’s a much simpler story.”
I get it now! It’s actually simpler than most of the shit he’s done. Love it! Happy great day to the haters and losers!! Not sad!!
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) September 24, 2019
Lebo, whose research focuses on U.S. elections and the presidency, says the fact that we’ve been through this already is an important factor playing into Pelosi’s decision. This is the second time Trump has been accused of meddling with the U.S. election.
Despite the fact that there were grey areas surrounding Trump’s involvement with the Russia scandal, his contact with Ukraine and the circus surrounding it, is just so similar: “This is similar to the Russia situation,” Lebo says. “So it’s sort of like, we went through all of this in 2016— and enough is enough.”
Increased pressure on Democrats—and Pelosi specifically—to launch a formal inquiry, after several instances of coming close, isn’t surprising. Especially because Trump’s violations are clear in this instance. “What it looks like, so far, is pretty obvious and egregious behaviour by the President,” Lebo says. “That if Democrats don’t initiate an impeachment hearing over this, then it’s hard to imagine what kind of oversight at all there is over the President.”
Will Trump *actually* be impeached?
Maybe, but that doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily be out of office (which would leave us with a would-be president Mike Pence. OMG.) “The term impeachment is frequently misunderstood,” says Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. “Impeachment essentially is an equivalent of indictment, not necessarily a conviction.”
The process is pretty much split up into two: the investigation is done through the House of Representatives (again, currently controlled by the Democrats), and if Trump is impeached, they’ll pass their findings onto the Republican-led Senate, the other side of the United States Congress, who’ll decide if he should be convicted and removed from office (at which point he may also face IRL criminal charges).
The only issue? Two-thirds of the Senate, most of them Republicans, has to vote to remove the prez, which means that members of Trump’s own party would have to vote to convict him.
And they most likely won’t, Kay says, for a good reason: They’re scared of him.”Most Republican legislators are very reluctant, even if they have a number of reservations about his behaviour, to do anything that’ll cross him,” Kay says. “Because he’s very vindictive and when you see him challenged in any way by a Republican congressman, he’s gone to Twitter and targeted them.” In two cases, Kay says, these congressmen were defeated for re-nomination. “So what [Trump] can do, basically, is mobilize the Republican electorate to oppose anybody in his party who challenges him.”
And, if history is any indication, he probably won’t be removed. Of the three former U.S. Presidents who have undergone impeachment inquiries (Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), none have been removed from office. Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate (meaning they remained in office); while Nixon resigned before the end of his impeachment inquiry.
What would happen if Trump is impeached?
If Trump actually is impeached, that means the process would move on to the Senate, where members would review the charges and decide whether or not to convict the President. In this case, it becomes similar to a criminal trial: House representatives present and explain the articles of impeachment—basically charges against the President–similar to prosecutors in criminal cases; the President can choose representatives to present his case (like defence lawyers) and senators act like jurors.
While the Senate would kind of have to hold a trial of some sort if the President is impeached, there are no clear rules on how long or in-depth this trial would have to be. Meaning that the Senate Republicans could pretty much set their own guidelines and rules for how seriously they look into the charges against Trump.
If Trump is impeached, but *not* convicted, he would stay in office until the 2020 election, at which point Trump would finish his term and lose re-election or be re-elected.
But a formal impeachment *now* might not bode well for Trump’s re-election chances, and could deter the him from running at all. “What’s never happened before is someone running for re-election after being impeached,” Lebo says. Although never say never with Trump.
For those who don’t remember, the word of the day is: