Fiorella Beccaglia Managing Editor
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Sept. 24, 2019, that the House of Representatives will open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Pelosi’s announcement follows a whistleblower complaint that President Trump pressured Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, to investigate Joe Biden’s son days after freezing $400 million in aid designated for the country. Trump has admitted that he spoke with Zelensky over the phone about Biden’s son as an example of corruption, but has denied behaving inappropriately.
One thing to clarify is that news of an impeachment inquiry is not the same thing as impeachment, but could ultimately lead the House down that road. It is also no guarantee there will be an impeachment vote. An impeachment inquiry is just an investigation into whether there’s enough evidence for an impeachment case against a federal official to go forward. Members of the committee House Judiciary Committee must decide whether to write articles of impeachment and present them to the rest of the House for a vote on impeachment.
Impeachment is the first stage of a two-part process enshrined in the Constitution for prosecuting and removing a President or other federal official from office for bribery, treason, or other “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives has the power to impeach by passing what is known as “articles of impeachment.” However, it’s up to the Senate to ultimately remove the President or other official from office after holding a trial. Impeachment is not a legal trial, but a political trial, which is designed to enable officials to be punished for “special kinds of crime only people in office could commit,” according to Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina constitutional law professor.
The House will vote Thursday, Oct. 31, on affirming the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump and Ukraine, as Democrats move forward with a formal vote after initially resisting. The Thursday vote will push back against a White House and Republican congressional talking point that the impeachment inquiry is not legitimate because it hasn’t been formally authorized, which comes as Democrats are facing off with a witness defying a subpoena as part of the inquiry for the first time. Pelosi said in a “dear colleague” letter that the resolution was not legally necessary, but the House would take the vote “to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives.”
So, is this impeachment inquiry fair? President Trump and his Republican allies have so far dealt with the inquiry in a familiar way: by attacking the legitimacy of the investigation itself and declaring it to be an unconstitutional sham process. They argue that Democrats have been waiting for an excuse to impeach the President since he was elected, which in my opinion is true, but Republicans did the same thing while Obama was in office despite his competent leadership. I also think Trump’s phone calls with Zelensky seem inappropriate and worth investigating. After all, the impeachment inquiry is just an investigation to see if the President has engaged in unlawful behavior.
Impeachment is an inherently political process, one that public opinion will ultimately decide. Richard Nixon was forced to resign because opinion turned against him, and Bill Clinton kept his job because most voters thought he should. Several opinion polls reflect an increase in support for an impeachment inquiry. According to a Morning Consult poll, 43 percent of Americans support impeachment proceedings, a 7-point increase, tying with Americans who do not support such proceedings. Additionally, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed support for an impeachment inquiry into Trump at 49 percent, while 46 percent opposed. The public seems to be divided on the matter, mostly supporting the inquiry, which is another reason for it to move forward.