With the public call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump by Texas Congressman Al Green on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this past Wednesday, that prospect has now crossed over from the realm of angry, betrayed voters voicing their discontent on Facebook and Twitter into the realm of actual political possibility. Despite the threats of violence against Green, some of which use outright racist language as demonstrated in voicemails the representative played at a town hall meeting on Saturday, the Houston congressman has vowed to press forward with impeachment, no matter what obstacles or opposition might present themselves.
A possible Trump impeachment has seemed like an inevitability to some for quite a while now. In fact, an online petition recently reached over 1 million signatures. In the past few months, some form of the word “impeach” has been a main staple in social media posts, and Google shows three huge spikes in searches for the term since the November 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The first spike was in the week directly following the election and the second was in the last week of January of this year. And the third spike? Well, the third is happening literally right now.
Among the reasons given by those calling for the impeachment process to begin are President Trump’s apparent violations of the Emoluments Clause, which forbids a person holding office from receiving payments from any foreign government or entity. There has been some dispute of any violations of that clause since Trump supposedly removed himself from any influence over his businesses and handed over control to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. Recently, with his firing of the now former FBI Director James Comey while under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, many people are pointing to a possibility of obstruction of justice as Trump’s latest impeachable offense. Even still, there are some who believe that a Trump impeachment is virtually impossible (hardline Trump supporters mostly).
But what exactly does impeachment mean? An impeachment is the process by which Congress takes action to remove a sitting president from office, beginning with Articles of Impeachment being drawn up and voted on in the House of Representatives. If the motion to impeach receives a majority vote, the Senate is then compelled to hold a hearing on the matter. Being “impeached” basically means that formal charges for treason or other high crimes are brought against the president, and there will be a trial held. Removal from office is one of two sentences that an impeached president faces. The other is an acquittal of all charges, and the president remains in office.
Taking a sitting president out of office is not something that Congress will look at flippantly. There have only been two times in U.S. history that a sitting President has been impeached. The first was Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the second was Bill Clinton in 1998, both of whom ended up with acquittals from the Senate (many people mistakenly believe that Richard Nixon was impeached, but he resigned from his position before the proceedings could begin). It is also a long process, and a lot can happen while the proceedings are ongoing.
There is another thing to consider when discussing impeachment; who will take over for President Trump if he is removed? In this case, if President Trump were to be impeached and removed from office (or resign as Nixon did), Vice President Mike Pence would then assume the role of President until the current term ended. The Vice President’s office would then be filled by a person nominated by the hypothetical President Pence, to be confirmed by a majority vote in Congress.
But there are many who are voicing their opposition to a President Pence as well, claiming that he would be just as bad as Trump is, or worse. This sentiment was demonstrated in a very public manner Sunday, as dozens of Notre Dame students and their families walked out as Pence began a speech at their graduation ceremony.
Disapproval of Pence has gotten to the point that people are also calling for his impeachment in tandem with Trump’s. Some have even taken it so far as to also call for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s removal since he would be the next in line for the presidency after Pence. But these additional hypothetical impeachments are beyond realistic.
For one, the process itself will make a Pence and/or Ryan impeachment virtually impossible. The House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party, which is the first hurdle that the Articles of Impeachment will need to overcome. With rising public sentiment of his incompetence as president, that might not be so difficult for a Trump impeachment, but when it comes to Pence, that’s a whole different story. Pence has been an office-holding Republican since 2000, comfortably winning reelections to his Congressional seat before he became Governor of Indiana in the 2012 election. He has a lot of friends in the House, and with GOP control, Articles of Impeachment are unlikely to be drawn up against him.
But, supposing that this actually does occur, the second hurdle is the Senate hearing. As Vice President, Pence presides over the Senate and is the official tie-breaker if the Senate finds itself in a deadlocked vote. While the Senate is not as uneven as the House of Representatives, the GOP is still the majority party, and it is unlikely that sitting GOP Senators would be willing to betray one of their own, even if the Articles get a majority vote in the House.
The same kind of hurdles exist for an impeachment of Speaker Ryan. It’s highly unlikely that the House of Representatives, with a GOP majority that he presides over a Speaker, is going to draw up Articles of Impeachment for Ryan. It’s even more unlikely that the Senate would follow through with removing him. It’s simply not realistic.
People who are calling for the impeachment of GOP members down the line until a Democratic president is installed are failing to understand two major problems. First, the more people that are added to the list of possible impeachments, the less likely that any of them are going to actually happen, and those calling for multiple impeachments are going to be written off as strictly partisan. Second, the Republicans currently control everything, and it’s highly improbable that the GOP leadership is going to say, “Hey, maybe it’s a good idea to knock out the top three guys in the Republican Party that currently control two-thirds of the government.”
There are some who take a bit of a different angle on this hypothetical situation. Looking to the 2018 midterm elections, when every seat in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs as well as a third of the Senate, many believe that if the GOP loses control over those institutions, impeachment of all three of the top GOP officials will be a breeze. While it is entirely possible that the House will change hands, the Senate is not so easy. Most of the seats up for reelection in 2018 are already held by opposition to the GOP, and it is not likely that the GOP will lose enough seats to switch the Senate over.
Even still, if these two things actually occur as a result of the midterm elections, the Speaker of the House would then be Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and impeaching Trump and Pence would hand the presidency to her (assuming she does not lose her seat in 2018). While many might be okay with that, there are plenty of people out there who would be just as upset with Pelosi in the White House as any of the GOP leadership. Many see Pelosi’s NeoLiberal defense of war and her love of all things capitalist as characteristics that would make her no better a president than a standard conservative Republican. Further, faced with the prospect of handing the White House to a Democrat, the GOP would just fight that much harder to keep Pence out of the reach of any impeachment proceedings.
With his erratic behavior, his apparent desire to deconstruct the federal government, and his alleged illegal and treasonous activities before and since his election, Donald Trump is not only making it easier for people to call for his removal, he’s making it extremely hard not to support his impeachment, even among the ranks of the Republican Party.
But, be careful what you wish for. IF – and it’s still a very big “if” – President Trump is successfully impeached, the U.S. will have Mike Pence in the Oval Office, and Paul Ryan is virtually untouchable by impeachment proceedings. The Republican Party already damaged themselves enough by making Trump the head of their party. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to finish the job by relinquishing all control of the federal government.
[Featured Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images]