On Tuesday, September 24th, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared the House of Representatives would begin a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. This announcement follows a recent whistle-blower complaint asserting that Trump abused his authority by recruiting a foreign power to smear his political rival, Joe Biden. During the Democratic Speaker’s rousing address to the nation, Pelosi stated that Trump’s actions reveal a “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.” As the impeachment inquiry unfolds, there will be a plethora of questions to be answered – but let us start with just one: What comes next?
To effectively determine what comes next in the impeachment inquiry process, the previous position must be clearly explained. Before Pelosi’s official announcement, The House Judiciary Committee was invested in what they called an “investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Donald Trump.” The Speaker’s official declaration forces the House Judiciary Committee to discuss specific articles of impeachment, rather than whether or not they should recommend any at all.
Now that it has been established that an official impeachment inquiry is to take place, specific grand jury information (i.e., Trump’s tax returns, redacted information from the Mueller Investigation) could be opened up to the Democrats of the House. This is vital because the House has sole constitutional authority over impeachment proceedings, meaning its members can recommend the specific articles to be voted on. In order for this process to move from an inquiry to a formal Senate impeachment hearing, at least one article of impeachment recommended by the House or the House Judiciary Committee must receive a simple majority vote. Currently, a simple majority in the House is 218 votes out of 435.
Only three US presidents have been the subject of an official impeachment inquiry – Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Richard Nixon. Due to the rarity of this critical process, legal precedent is not as decisive as it is in other portions of the judicial system. There are fragments of the impeachment process that have not been effectively tried, therefore it can be extremely difficult to predict what will actually take place. Although the framers of the US Constitution believed the power of impeachment to be critical to the survival of the American republic, it proves to be the most anarchic part of our democracy. Constitutional checks and balances have maintained the system up until now, but the moral and ethical consciences of the representatives in DC may determine a new status-quo.
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