Can Congress impeach Donald Trump if he wins the Electoral College vote on December 19? Absolutely, although whether or not they will is a different matter entirely.
What The Constitution Says
Officially, the Constitution allows Congress to impeach “the President, Vice-President, and all other civil officers of the United States” for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It bears noting that impeachment and removal from office are two different things: “impeachment” simply means bringing up the president (or another official) on charges. Being impeached does not necessarily mean that he will be removed from office. That decision is made by the Senate following a trial.
In U.S. history, two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither man was convicted in the Senate, and both went on to serve the remainder of their terms.
Any sitting member of the House of Representatives can begin impeachment proceedings against the president, either by reading a list of charges, under oath, to the full House or by referring the process to the appropriate committee.
“High Crimes and Misdemeanors”
The Constitution is vague on the reasons for which Congress can impeach the president (or other officials). This has led to a belief by some legal observers that Congress can impeach the president for whatever reason they see fit, according to the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. The president can even be impeached for actions done before he or she took office.
Or, as Gerald Ford said in 1970, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
In other words, the president need not necessarily have been convicted of, or even be under indictment for, any criminal offense in a court of law in order for him to be impeached.
For what it’s worth, Bill Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power, all three of which are actual crimes for which a person can be tried in a criminal court. Johnson, on the other hand, was impeached for a variety of procedural violations and not any criminal acts.
What Does This Mean For Donald Trump
Considering legal precedent and the way Congress has interpreted the Constitution, Congress could theoretically impeach Trump for any number of offenses, real or imagined. Although, in a practical sense, to impeach him for something other than an actual crime or civil offense would be all but unthinkable.
Nevertheless, when Trump assumes office on January 20 (assuming he wins the Electoral College vote), he brings to the table dozens of pending civil and legal cases, according to the Atlantic. Congress could impeach him for any number of them, or all of them, and they could do so as soon as his hand is off the Bible following his Oath of Office.
Will Impeachment Happen?
Writing in Vanity Fair in November, T.A. Frank noted that impeaching a president is not a matter to be taken lightly, and right now it’s impossible to judge whether or not there’s enough political will in Congress to make it happen in the case of a Trump presidency. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, several Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen would have to turn their backs on their parties just to get the process started.
“Many Republicans would rather play ball with a very flawed president on their side than stir up a war with impeachment.”
On the other hand, notes Frank, some Republicans consider Trump dangerous and unpredictable. Getting rid of Trump, and by extension, putting Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office, would make the next four (or eight) years of Republican governance considerably easier.
“Many elected Republicans, perhaps most, consider Trump to be a threat to their brand and priorities. They worry that Trump is unhinged. (Who, apart from Trump himself, doesn’t?) To see Trump disappear and leave things to Mike Pence, a lockstep party man with all of Trump’s traditional rightist views and none of Trump’s eccentricities or heresies, would be a dream-come-true for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.”
There’s also the matter that, for Republicans — particularly, those whose seats are not a sure thing — impeaching Donald Trump could be tantamount to career suicide. Voters who cast their votes for Trump aren’t likely to take lightly any attempts by their representatives to impeach him.
Do you believe that Congress should impeach Donald Trump?
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