Donald Trump impeached. What next?

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Donald Trump became the third President in American history to be impeached on Wednesday night with a majority of Representatives voting in favour of the two articles of impeachment drawn up by House Democrats. The articles, essentially the charges against the President, accuse him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, both related to the Ukraine scandal.

How the House voted?

It was certainly before the vote that the impeachment resolution would go through the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats. In the 435-member House, the Democrats have 233 members, while the Republicans have 197. The House voted on the impeachment articles largely along party lines. The first article got 230 votes. The tally in the second article was 229-198. Two Democrats — Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, both from districts that backed Mr Trump in the 2016 presidential election — voted against both articles. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, whose district was also carried by Mr Trump in 2016, voted for the first article but against the second. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) of Hawaii voted “present” on both votes.

Why Trump was impeached?

Both articles of impeachment are related to the Ukraine scandal, which means the House did not consider the Robert Mueller report on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and Mr Trump’s handling of the issue. The first article, on abuse of power, is about Mr Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal. The Democrats allege that the President abused his power by putting pressure on Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a probe against Joe Biden, the former Vice-President and a Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden. The President is accused of withholding both a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine. The article states that Mr Trump “corruptly solicited the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations” into Mr Biden and into “a discredited theory” that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

The second article, on obstruction of Congress, alleges that Mr Trump obstructed the Congressional impeachment inquiry by refusing to cooperate with it. The President, who has denied all charges, urged several witnesses not to testify before the House panel and asked the White House and other government departments not to comply with House subpoenas. President Trump “has directed the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to his ‘sole Power of Impeachment’,” states Article II.

Is Trump out of office?

No. Impeachment by the House doesn’t remove an American President from office immediately. Impeachment means a majority of House Representatives have approved the articles raised against the President, setting the stage for his trial in the Senate. After the trial, the Senators will vote on his conviction. A President can be convicted and removed from office with the support of at least two-thirds of the Senate (that is 67 Senators in the 100-member U.S. Senate). In the current Senate, the Republicans have a majority with 53 seats, while the Democrats have 47 (including two Independents). This means, for Mr Trump to be convicted, the Democrats have to make sure that none of their Senators crosses the party line and at least 20 Republicans do that and vote for the conviction — an impossibility given the partisan mood in the Capitol. So far, the Republicans have rejected the charges against the President. So it’s almost certain that Mr Trump will be acquitted in the Senate.

Then why the impeachment?

Democrats say it is their constitutional duty to start the impeachment proceedings as the President’s actions threaten the Constitution. The underlying message is that as the next election is less than a year away, the voters can decide whether they want to re-elect a President who has been impeached by the House. It’s also about bad legacy for Mr Trump. He’s gone down in history as the third President to be impeached in the U.S. — the first was Andrew Johnson in 1868 after a showdown with Congress over his dismissal of the Secretary of War and the second was Bill Clinton in 1998-99 over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Both were acquitted in the Senate. Former President Richard Nixon, embroiled in the Watergate scandal, resigned in 1974 before the impeachment proceedings could begin. So, the impeachment has put Mr Trump in rare company. It is not clear how the impeachment would impact the 2020 election. A Wall Street Journal/ NBC News survey, released on Wednesday, suggests that Americans are split 48-48% on whether to sack Mr Trump from office. Some 90% of Republicans oppose the impeachment, while 83% of Democrats support it.

Source: The Hindu