Tomorrow (Wednesday NZ Time) the US house of Representatives Judiciary Committee begins drafting a possible impeachment of President Donald J Trump. He will be safely in London attending the NATO 70th summit and if he heeds Boris Johnson, he will keep out of the UK election campaign.
The Congress has now reached a critical phase in the impeachment process. The House Intelligence Committee has heard evidence in camera along with several very public hearings last week.
This committee is wrapping up its report to the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New Yorker not well disposed to the president. At the weekend he invited President Trump to appear before the committee.
This was abruptly rebuked by White House counsel Pat Cipollone who wrote to Nadler citing a “complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president” in the impeachment process. However, he did not rule out participation in further proceedings. The Democrats would have to make major procedural concessions, he said.
So, the House Judiciary Committee will receive the report and determine whether to bring articles of impeachment against Trump. The Democrats will focus on two key areas: abuse of power and obstruction of justice – as opposed to “high crimes and misdemeanours.”
If the Committee recommends articles of impeachment, then the whole House will vote on them. The Democrats control the House and each article needs only a simple majority to be passed.
To date, only two presidents have ever been impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before a vote was held.
If the House votes for impeachment, a trial and vote then takes place in the upper chamber, the US Senate, where Chief Justice John Roberts would preside. Essentially the 100 senators would become a jury.
To eject President Trump from the White House, two thirds of senators would need to vote for removal, that is 67 senators. As there are only 47 Democrats and Independents in the Senate, at least 20 Republican senators would need to vote for removal. So far, few have offered even mild criticism of President Trump.
No US president has ever been removed from office by impeachment. There would need to be an upheaval of astronomical proportions in the Senate to have him depart.
Trump knows this as many of his senators are on a tight re-election deadline (next year) – and he knows that impeachment didn’t hamper Bill Clinton. Current polling suggests the electorate is pretty well balanced between impeachment and not.
The Democrats are keen to have this over and done with before the election cycle winds up early next year, given that middle America cares little for the finer definitions of high crimes (no bank robberies, treason or murders evident) and the rather more vague “misdemeanours”.
So long as the economy improves, Trump engineers a removal from Afghanistan (the USA’s longest-ever war) and there are no greater crises, the Republicans reckon they can beat an even more complicated field of Democratic candidates which is turning into a battle between billionaire Michael Bloomberg and shred-the-wealthy Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
South Bend Indiana mayor Peter Buttigieg is running well in the polls but in the brutal nature of US politics, he is not scoring highly among African-American voters. Guess who might canter home down the middle?