/What happens next in the impeachment of President Trump?

What happens next in the impeachment of President Trump?

President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to accusations Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.

That was only the third impeachment of a president in U.S. history, and it was followed by a weeks-long stalemate between congressional leaders over the next phase of the proceedings. That will end in mid-January, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she plans to transfer the articles of impeachment to the other side of the Capitol.

Here’s how we got to this moment and what you can expect in the Senate trial that comes next.

What happened?

The House voted on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump, after a full day of debate on the House floor. The first article accused Trump of abusing his power by leveraging the federal government and taxpayer money for his personal and political gain, and the second accused him of obstructing the congressional inquiry into his actions on Ukraine.

Republicans who spoke almost universally accused Democrats of looking for an excuse to impeach Trump, while Democrats argued that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine necessitated impeachment.


Both articles passed, meaning Trump is impeached. The article on abuse of power passed 230 to 197, and the one on obstruction passed 229 to 198.

But he’s not removed from office. The Senate determines whether that will happen.

What the Constitution says about what happens next

A president who has been impeached by the House can still serve as president. It’s up to the Senate to hold a trial to decide whether to remove him from office. The two other presidents impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, were acquitted by the Senate.

The Constitution says only that the Senate has to hold a trial, with the senators sitting as jurors, House lawmakers serving as prosecutors — known as managers — and the chief justice of the United States presiding over it. Senators must take a public vote, and two-thirds of those present must agree on whether to convict the president and, thus, remove him from office. But the Constitution doesn’t lay out exactly how to hold a trial.

How a Senate trial works

Rules the Senate approved in the 1980s provide some guidelines, but the really important stuff — such as whether to call witnesses and what kind of evidence to admit and how long to make the proceedings — is up to the senators to decide. The only modern guide we have is the Clinton impeachment trial, which allowed no new evidence and only taped testimony from key witnesses. It was largely considered a successful example of bipartisan cooperation, with Republicans working with Democrats to put together as fair a trial as possible.

A majority of senators need to agree on the rules for Trump’s impeachment trial. But before they could get started debating that, Pelosi held up sending over the articles of impeachment to the Senate in a bid to try to get senators to agree to have Trump’s top aides testify.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he has enough support to start the trial without such an agreement, and after a three-week delay, Pelosi started the process of having the House vote to send over the articles and to approve which House lawmakers will prosecute the case against Trump in the trial.

When they do get the articles, senators will come to an agreement on a start date for a trial. Senators will start by taking an oath of impartiality and will work six days a week until they have voted on both articles of impeachment. If there are witnesses, senators can ask them questions in writing, which the presiding official, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., will read aloud. The president can choose his own attorneys, and they can cross-examine witnesses. The chief justice can overrule something that happens in the trial that he feels is out of line with the rules the senators set, but senators can overrule him with a vote. At some point in the trial, the Senate will vote on whether to have witnesses. It’s not clear whether there will be a majority of senators to support that.

If Trump is convicted on even one count, the Constitution says he has to be removed from office. Senators could take yet another vote to prevent him from running for office ever again.

What is the likelihood of the Senate convicting Trump?

It’s low. House Republicans displayed remarkable unity during the impeachment process — none of them voted for impeachment. Outside Congress, Trump remains popular among his base. Against that backdrop, it’s hard to see mass defections among Senate Republicans to override their party’s voters and kick the president out of office.

A Washington Post count of where senators stand on removing Trump shows that, as of mid-January, 38 senators have indicated they do not plan to support removal. If that holds, it’s enough to keep Trump in office.

A mass defection by members of his party is what it would take to convict Trump and remove him from office. Twenty of the 53 Republican senators would need to join all Democratic-voting senators to reach the two-thirds supermajority the Constitution requires for impeachment. We count 14 who have expressed at least some level of concern with Trump’s behavior on Ukraine policy, but there are only three Republican senators who have a track record of speaking out against Trump consistently: Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. In addition, it’s not a given that all Senate Democrats stay together. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has crossed party lines before.

So, there probably aren’t enough senators to convict Trump as the evidence stands now. But there are enough senators in the middle of the political spectrum to put weight on Senate leaders to conduct a fair trial.

How we got here

The events that led to the impeachment inquiry span years, and you can dig into them in this exhaustive timeline. Here’s a shorter recap.

Spring and summer of 2019

The alleged quid pro quo

Congress and the Defense Department approve nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in early 2019. Out of public view, diplomats urge Trump to meet in the Oval Office with Ukraine’s newly elected president — a meeting the Ukrainians view as an important signal to Russia. But that meeting is pushed off, and the military aid is ordered stopped by the White House. In late July, Trump speaks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asking him to “do us a favor though” that includes investigating his political opponents and the Biden family.


In August, a whistleblower files a complaint about that call, alleging Trump had dangled a meeting with Zelensky in exchange for launching investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter and of a conspiracy theory about a Democratic National Committee server.

September

Impeachment inquiry is launched

The Post’s editorial board writes that it had been “reliably told” that Trump was pressuring Zelensky to investigate the Bidens. The existence of the whistleblower complaint is reported by The Post and other outlets. The White House releases a rough transcript of the call with Zelensky, and the whistleblower complaint becomes public. And Pelosi announces the House will conduct an impeachment inquiry into Trump to see whether his actions on Ukraine render him unfit for office.

October and November

A public investigation

The investigation is underway. It happens behind closed doors at first. Then we get dramatic public testimony by witnesses, many of whom say Trump held up an Oval Office meeting with Ukraine’s president in an attempt to get the probes he wanted. Many witnesses say they believe Trump withheld the military aid for the same reason.

Trump also blocked his top aides from complying with congressional subpoenas to testify in the investigation.

December

The vote to impeach

The House Intelligence Committee released a report on the findings of the investigation, and based on that, the Judiciary Committee wrote up the two articles of impeachment the House voted on and approved Dec. 18.

Late December into January

The hold on the impeachment articles

Almost immediately after Trump’s impeachment, Pelosi put the requisite Senate trial in doubt by not handing over the articles of impeachment or naming House lawmakers to prosecute the case against Trump in the Senate.

She said she wasn’t sure of the environment she’d be sending them into, which was code for: She doesn’t trust McConnell and Senate Republicans to shape a “fair” trial.

Over the holidays, Democrats explained that “fair” meant agreeing to call Trump’s top aides to testify in the trial. Around the same time, newly released White House emails showed that some of these same aides were actively working to halt Ukraine’s military assistance at Trump’s demand.

But McConnell had no intention of agreeing to call witnesses. So he waited. And he accused Democrats of playing politics with Trump’s fate as a duly elected president. By mid-January, it became clear that Democrats weren’t going to win this one, and Pelosi started the process to pass the baton to the Republican Senate.

What does the public say about impeaching Trump?

Americans started out skeptical of removing Trump from office, and after more than two months, they are split basically 50-50, according to a December Post-ABC News poll. The all-important independents are also split, the poll found.

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

Americans still split along partisan lines over impeachment

Q: Based on what you know, do you think Congress should or should not impeach Trump and remove him from office?

Do not impeach and remove

Note: No opinion not shown

Source: Dec. 10-15, 2019, Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,003 adults with an error margin of +/- 3.5 percentage points. Error margin larger among subgroups.

LESLIE SHAPIRO/THE WASHINGTON POST

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

Americans still split along partisan lines over impeachment

Q: Based on what you know, do you think Congress should or should not impeach Trump and remove him from office?

Do not impeach and remove

Note: No opinion not shown

Source: Dec. 10-15, 2019, Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,003 adults with an error margin of +/- 3.5 percentage points. Error margin larger among subgroups.

LESLIE SHAPIRO/THE WASHINGTON POST

Washington Post-ABC News Poll

Americans still split along partisan lines over impeachment

Q: Based on what you know, do you think Congress should or should not impeach Trump and remove him from office?

Do not impeach and remove

Note: No opinion not shown

Source: Dec. 10-15, 2019, Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,003 adults with an error margin of +/- 3.5 percentage points. Error margin larger among subgroups.

LESLIE SHAPIRO/THE WASHINGTON POST

The only thing most Americans, including Republicans, agree about on impeachment is that Trump’s top aides should testify in a Senate trial.