It’s finally happening: House Democrats are opening a full-blown impeachment investigation into President Trump.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the news Tuesday afternoon following a busy day of speculation. “The President must be held accountable,” she said during a brief statement in front of a wall of American flags. “No one is above the law.”
BREAKING NEWS: Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces that the House of Representatives will move forward with an "official impeachment inquiry." pic.twitter.com/PE3h3lgfEH
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) September 24, 2019
The launch of a formal impeachment inquiry is a landmark moment in the battle between the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Trump, whose administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to stymie congressional investigations that could harm the president.
As details emerged this week about Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, a slew of once-reluctant Democrats joined the chorus of lawmakers demanding an impeachment probe or articles of impeachment. The most important Democrat of them all is Pelosi who finally got onboard herself after meeting with Democratic committee chairs, House leadership, and the rest of the caucus. Here’s everything you need to know:
What exactly did Pelosi announce on Tuesday?
Pelosi announced that the six House committee chairs who have been investigating various aspects of Trump and his administration will now be doing so as part of an official impeachment inquiry. This is far more than a symbolic distinction, as it could afford these investigations additional power in securing information and appealing to the courts. The announcement marks the first time Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in the House, has endorsed the idea of the pursuing the potential impeachment of President Trump. This is a big deal.
The announcement comes amid an intensifying scandal surrounding Trump pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, a Ukrainian company Hunter worked for, and whether Joe Biden as helped the company in question while serving as vice president. Days before Trump urged new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Biden, he ordered a freeze on a package of military aid Congress had appropriated for Ukraine. The number of House Democrats to publicly express support for impeachment rose as more information surfaced about the substance and timing of Trump’s aid freeze and exchange with Zelensky.
For months prior to the Ukraine scandal, Pelosi had obstinately tamped down the growing movement among House Democrats to impeach Trump. As that movement intensified following the release of the Mueller report in April, Pelosi leaned on several different rationales in arguing that beginning impeachment proceedings would not be the best course of action for Democrats. Among them were that Trump is “self-impeaching”; that impeaching Trump and failing to get a conviction in the Senate would inhibit efforts to prosecute him once he was out of office; and that it would distract from Democrats’ agenda heading into the 2020 elections.
But by Tuesday morning, that ground had shifted under Democrats’ feet. The alleged wrongdoing by the president was too much to bear. “If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” seven freshmen Democrats in competitive districts wrote on Tuesday. “We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of ‘inherent contempt’ and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.”
What does Trump think of all this?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
So is Trump actually being impeached?
Not yet. An inquiry only means a formal process is in place to determine whether to bring articles of impeachment up for a vote on the House floor. If this does happen and a majority of the House votes in favor of the articles of impeachment, Trump would then officially be impeached.
Only two other presidents in American history have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was removed from office, however, as they were not convicted by the Senate. A formal impeachment inquiry was launched into Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, but Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment could be voted upon.
If he is impeached, does that mean he’ll be removed from office?
No, no, no, no, no, and [almost certainly] no.
If the House votes in favor of the articles of impeachment, the buck would pass to the Senate, which would essentially hold a trial and vote on whether to convict the president of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
If they do so by a two-thirds majority, Trump would be removed from office. As it stands now, this isn’t remotely likely, as the Senate is controlled by Republicans. The apparent inevitability that impeachment in the House would not result in Trump’s removal from office is one of the factors Pelosi had raised previously while arguing against impeachment. A growing portion of her caucus doesn’t see this or anything else as legitimate enough of a reason to refrain from doing what they can to hold the president accountable for his incessant abuses of power. For now, at least, Pelosi has acquiesced.