How to impeach Donald Trump

How to impeach Donald Trump
Comment: Impeachment requires 25 Republican votes and all Democrats in the House, plus 19 of the GOP to join all 48 Democratic Senators. But what comes next might be worse...
6 min read
30 May, 2017
Stormclouds are gathering around President Trump, but his departure won't guarantee a brighter future [AFP]
In the past few weeks, several calls to impeach US President Donald Trump have surfaced, from online petitions, to late night talk show hosts - even to members of Congress.

Democratic Congressman Al Green of Texas has started drafting articles of impeachment. According to Green, "the president has committed an impeachable act" when he asked FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Other Democrats have also started using the "I" word, as the story of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia develops, following the alleged obstruction of justice in the investigation of those links, alongside the disclosure of classified national security information to Russian officials.

Even Republican Representatives such as Justin Amash of Michigan and Carlos Curbelo of Florida have started entertaining the prospect of impeachment.

While some put the odds of Trump's impeachment before the end of his first term close to 50/50, others are more conservative - but still predict a 25 percent probability of Trump being impeached. However, with no history or data on the matter - and no statistical models on which to base predictions, this is proving difficult for analysts and pundits to forecast.

Impeaching a US President 

In American history, no president has ever been discharged from his job. The process of impeaching and convicting a US president is not easy. Under the United States Constitution, only very serious offenses of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" can be grounds for impeachment.

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The process involves two steps; first the House of Representatives must pass articles of impeachment, by listing and investigating the alleged charges against the president. Once passed in the House, the president is impeached and goes to the Senate for trial.

If agreed by the Senate, the president is convicted of charges and is removed from office. This process requires a simple majority vote in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

In the history of the United States, impeachment procedures against a president have only twice taken place. The first president to be impeached by the House was Andrew Johnson in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act, but he was not convicted, as the Senate acquitted him by one vote.

President Bill Clinton faced charges of perjury and obstruction of justice over the Monika Lewinsky case and was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998, but the Senate also acquitted him.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon was facing impeachment procedures over the Watergate scandal, but resigned from office before it went through.

President Trump's scandalous tenure and misconduct continue to escalate, with new allegations almost daily

In addition to the initiation of impeachment in the US Senate, the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution allows senior officers to remove the president from office if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office". This amendment was ratified after the assassination of President John F Kennedy, but has never been used in the United States to remove a president from office.

Could Trump be impeached?

As for the current US president, who is both unconventional and controversial, two opposing forces will determine whether impeachment proposals against Trump can be successful.

First, President Trump's scandalous tenure and misconduct continue to escalate, with new allegations almost daily.

While some have cited issues including conflict of interest, nepotism, authoritarian conduct and obscuring his personal finances as sufficient for his impeachment, they are unlikely to be enough grounds for a conviction.

That said, the firing of FBI Director James Comey over his investigation of Michael Flynn, considered by many to be an obstruction of justice, might have brought a few members of Congress closer to discussions of impeachment.  

The second, more significant factor, is whether members of Congress would find it in their own interests to impeach the president.

At the end of day, impeachment is a political act. Currently, both the House and the Senate are controlled by Republicans, which would mean Republicans must judge Trump to be enough of a liability to the party in order to move impeachment forwards.

Discussion of impeachment is highly politicised; past US presidents have faced allegations and calls for impeachment by the opposing party. Both Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama had 30 percent of voters supporting their impeachment six years into their presidencies. Donald Trump, however, reached the 30 percent mark only one month into his presidency, reportedly reaching 48 percent in May 2017.    

Nonetheless, partisan loyalty is currently at an all-time high among members of Congress, members of both parties, and voters alike. Republicans are not likely to go against their own party's president in such a highly polarised political environment. Furthermore, Republican members of Congress facing re-election in the 2018 midterms are wary of upsetting Trump's voter base that defied all expectations to give him the presidency.

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To reach a simple majority in the House, all 193 Democrats and 25 Republicans are needed to vote for President Trump's impeachment. To convict him in the Senate, 19 Republicans must join the 48 Democrats. This assumes that all Democrats vote in favour both of impeachment and conviction, which is not entirely likely, given that some Democrats in red states are up for re-election.

In the unlikely case of Democrats winning an outright majority of seats in 2018, there would be a much higher likelihood of Trump's impeachment.

Although Pence's foreign and Middle East experience is very limited, he sides with the conservative branch of the Republican establishment

If Trump is impeached

While many Democrats and liberals are advocating the impeachment and removal of President Trump, any such result is not likely to bring about a better future for the United States - let's not forget, Vice-President Mike Pence is next in line.

Despite Trump's dysfunctional White House and lack of competence and strategy, he has failed to overturn any major Obama legislation. Although known as unconventional, Trump still carries on with the conventional policies of the United States, and if anything, seems incapable of making major change.

Mike Pence, on the other hand, is a hardline conservative who has successfully implemented reactionary conservative policies as governor of Indiana.

Although Pence's foreign and Middle East experience is very limited, he sides with the conservative branch of the Republican establishment, advocating a powerful military, alongside unflinching support for Israel, and an insistence on using the term "Islamic extremism".

Pence is hawkish on foreign policy and voted in favour of the 2003 war on Iraq. He is a radical supporter of Israel's right-wing extremist Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, with ties to the the powerful pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group.

As governor of Indiana, he signed into law a bill requiring the state to divest from organisations that supported the BDS movement.

If Trump were to be impeached and convicted, Mike Pence as president would be capable of doing much greater damage to Middle East policy in practice than Trump has been able to achieve with rhetoric alone. 

Dr. Tamara Kharroub is a Senior Analyst and Assistant Executive Director at Arab Center Washington DC.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.