Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday, Sept. 24 that the House would initiate a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. Pelosi accused Trump of violating the Constitution by seeking help from a foreign leader to tarnish a political opponent for his own gain.
The move to put in an inquiry came after a whistleblower, whose name has not been released, filed a formal complaint that Trump used military aid as leverage to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Professor Edward Sidlow, who teaches courses on Congress and the Presidency at Eastern Michigan University, said he feels launching an inquiry is the appropriate move.
“I think [Pelosi’s] message was appropriately somber,” Sidlow said. “I think like Thomas O’Neill, the Speaker of the House in the Nixon impeachment, Pelosi was in no hurry to do this and takes it extraordinarily seriously. It seems to me, particularly in light of the news regarding the transcript of his conversation with the president of Ukraine, it’s probably appropriate that they launch an inquiry.”
Professor Jeffrey Bernstein, who teaches Intro to American Government, Campaigns and Elections and Public Opinion, said he agrees with launching an inquiry against Trump. However, the language in the Constitution is “frustratingly vague” in regards to what behavior is grounds for impeachment.
“What’s interesting is that something that is against the law is not automatically impeachable. And something that is impeachable doesn’t necessarily have to go against the law,” Bernstein said. “If there is one important lesson here to take from this it’s that impeachment is a political process; not a legal proceeding. It is a political process by which a president whose behavior in office is deemed to be unacceptable in a way that goes beyond a policy disagreement.”
So now that an impeachment inquiry has been made, what’s next? At the conclusion of an investigation, which could take several months, if it is found that there are reasons for impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee will draw up articles of impeachment, which will then be voted on by the full House. If they pass the articles of impeachment, they will be delivered to the senate, who would then begin preparing for a trial.
Bernstein noted that while it appears majority of the House wants to go through with the impeachment inquiry, it is not clear that the majority of the House actually wants to impeach President Trump.
“It takes two-thirds to convict and remove a president from office,” Bernstein said. “The democrats right now, in the 100 seat senate, have 47 seats from the democrats and 53 from the republicans. However, the democrats do have a majority in the House, so if they do hold together on this, they do have the votes to impeach.”
Although possible, Bernstein said he believes a Trump impeachment is not realistic at this point in time.
“You need 67 to convict and there are 47 democratic senators now,” Bernstein said. “So to convict and remove Trump, you would need to somehow get a minimum of 20 Republican senators agreeing that Trump should be removed. That’s very far-fetched.
"The Republican Party is very much aligned with Trump …. What will it take to convince 20 senators that Donald Trump has to be removed from office? I could imagine what, but remember, this is the guy who said, ‘I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t affect my popularity.’”
For those questioning the goals of the democrats, Bernstein said it would be counterproductive to go through the impeachment process only to promote a negative view of the president in the eyes of the public.
“The democrats for a long time have really held off this talk,” Bernstein said. “Nancy Pelosi has really held back impeachment. In this district, Debbie Dingell has not pushed hard for impeachment. I think there’s a sense that this scandal might be something different; that this may be a bridge too far where the democrats say, ‘We can’t look the other way with something like this.’ … I think the democrats have reached a conclusion that it’s time.”
Professor Sidlow said he wants people to know that “this is not a television spectacle,” rather a sign of much bigger problems in United States politics.
“This is extraordinarily important business,” he said. “I think what’s most important is not Mr. Trump and not his administration and not Mitch McConnell. What’s important is how this continues to make our politics so toxic that they can’t work. Its short sighted of people to say, ‘Get Mr. Trump out of office’ or ‘Support Mr. Trump at all costs.’ That simply furthers the toxicity and the ugliness of our politics and whomever our next president is will absolutely be unable to work with the other side because of all the ugliness that has transpired between the middle 1990s and today.”