Photo (ABOVE): @SpeakerPelosi / Twitter
Written by Ben Szioli
At the end of July, I wrote an article predicting President Donald Trump would not be impeached (for Russiagate). But boy, has the calculus has changed since then.
At the time, I argued Congress had decided (and it still has decided) that Russiagate is not impeachable. But leave it to President Trump to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of politics and wipe everything clean. In the months since I published my article, Trump totally circumvented my predictions by lobbying Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son before the 2020 election. By committing a totally new crime, Trump re-drew the landscape.
To summarize my logic from July: since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to consider a conviction and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refused to allow an impeachment vote, Congress had already decided not to impeach.
By illegally lobbying Ukraine, Trump changed the equation. Now, House Speaker Pelosi can justify impeachment for an ongoing crime. On December 5th, she called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to bring forward articles of impeachment. Majority Leader McConnell’s line in the sand has changed from a firewall into a volleyball net that Pelosi is lobbing a tricky serve over.
What’s interesting about this change in pace of play is that it doesn’t really change Trump’s outlook in the Senate. McConnell, while remaining neutral in public lately, just last month said his Senate majority would acquit if the trial were held immediately. From the GOP’s perspective, little has changed since then.
The first important question, then, is whether the Senate will actually have to stage an impeachment trial or not. A simple majority of the House is needed to impeach. With a Democratic majority, that should be easy. The only House Democrats who voted against the original impeachment inquiry are Representatives Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) and Collin Peterson (DFL-MN). Both are expected to vote against the impeachment itself. The Democratic majority is therefore likely to win out. Representative Justin Amash (I-MI), the former Republican, is also expected to vote in favor of impeachment, bolstering the Democrats.
Judiciary Chairman Nadler has been preparing to draft articles of impeachment for weeks. He will bring the articles to the House floor when they are drafted. The White House is unlikely to cooperate with the end of the impeachment probe, which will put Congress on an accelerated timeline to finish the impeachment. Still, Fox News reports that a member of Pelosi’s team suggested impeachment may be delayed until January because it “doesn’t fit the holiday spirit.”
When the vote occurs, Trump will almost certainly become the third president in United States history to be impeached in the House.
As I said, this does little to change the math in the Senate trial. A House impeachment may call a lot of Senators’ bluffs, but the main difference is Senators would have to vote on the record.
For the trial, we are still looking at an acquittal in the Senate if Democrats cannot peel away a whopping twenty Republicans. Their intent is to pressure the votes of Republican Senators up for re-election in 2020. However, there are only twenty-three Republican Senators facing re-election in 2020 at all. That means Democrats would need to win over nearly all twenty-three in order to convict. With nineteen of the seats rated “safe Republican” or “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report, there simply aren’t enough imperiled Senators to do that. Democrats can’t expect to be able to force the Republican Party’s hand in these circumstances.
So, if or when Trump is acquitted, the fallout will begin. Heading toward the 2020 election, impeachment will dominate the Congressional race. Senators and Representatives will face their constituents’ judgment. That’s the one wild card: which legislators will face home-state pressure to impeach, and how much pressure will those legislators face? Those questions will shape the impeachment vote and Congressional map in untold ways.