By PATRICK KIMANZI & WASHINGTON POST
President Trump entered the history books in a new category Wednesday:
He is the third U.S. president to have been impeached by the House. The two Wednesday votes on impeachment bring to an end the House’s months-long inquiry into whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.
Here’s how we got to this moment and what you can expect in the Senate trial that comes next.
What happened Wednesday?The House spent Wednesday debating the two impeachment articles on the House floor.The first article accused Trump of abusing his power by leveraging the federal government and taxpayer money for his personal and political gain, and the second accused him of obstructing the congressional inquiry into his actions on Ukraine.Republicans who spoke almost universally accused Democrats of looking for an excuse to impeach Trump, while Democrats argued that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine necessitated impeachment.Both articles passed, meaning Trump is impeached. The article on abuse of power passed 230 to 197, and the one on obstruction passed 229 to 198.
But he’s not removed from office. The Senate determines whether that will happen.What the Constitution says about what happens next
A president who has been impeached by the House can still serve as president.It’s up to the Senate to hold a trial to decide whether to remove him from office.The two other presidents impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, were acquitted by the Senate.The Constitution says only that the Senate has to hold a trial, with the senators sitting as jurors, House lawmakers serving as prosecutors known as managers, and the chief justice of the United States presiding over it.Senators must take a public vote, and two-thirds of those present must agree on whether to convict the president and, thus, remove him from office. But the Constitution doesn’t lay out exactly how to hold a trial.How a Senate trial worksRules the Senate approved in the 1980s give some guidelines, but the really important stuff — such as whether to call witnesses and what kind of evidence to admit and how long to make the proceedings — is up to the senators to decide.The only modern guide we have is the Clinton impeachment trial, which allowed no new evidence and only taped testimony from key witnesses. It was largely considered a successful example of bipartisan cooperation, with Republicans working with Democrats to put together as fair a trial as possible.A majority of senators needs to agree on the rules for Trump’s impeachment trial. We expected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to negotiate beforehand, but instead they have vastly different views on how to do this.Schumer has said he wants people close to the president during the period scrutinized in the impeachment inquiry, such as Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, or former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify.McConnell wants no witnesses at all. Republicans are also feeling pressured by Trump, who appears ready to use the Senate trial to attack his political opponents and try to undermine his impeachment.Even though the Senate trial is in Republican hands, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to leverage what happens.The Washington Post reports that she is considering withholding the articles of impeachment from going over to the Senate immediately, which could delay the Senate trial that Trump so badly wants to clear his name — and perhaps put pressure on Republicans to consider inviting witnesses who could be damaging to Trump.Pelosi told reporters Wednesday that she wouldn’t name House managers until she saw the parameters of the Senate trial and was assured it would be fair, strongly suggesting that she believes a fair trial includes witnesses.McConnell does not seem swayed. “It looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet,” he said Thursday morning.
When they do get the articles, senators will come to an agreement on a start date for a trial.Senators will start by taking an oath of impartiality and will work six days a week until they have voted on both articles of impeachment. If there are witnesses, senators can ask them questions in writing, which the presiding official, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. , will read aloud.The president can choose his own attorneys, and they can cross-examine witnesses. The chief justice can overrule something that happens in the trial that he feels is out of line with the rules, but senators can overrule him with a vote.If Trump is convicted on even one count, the Constitution says he has to be removed from office. Senators could take yet another vote to prevent him from running for office ever again.What is the likelihood of the Senate convicting Trump?
It’s low.House Republicans displayed remarkable unity during the impeachment process — none of them voted for impeachment. Outside Congress, Trump remains popular among his base.Against that backdrop, it’s hard to see mass defections among Senate Republicans to override their party’s voters and kick the president out of office.A mass defection by members of his party is what it would take to convict Trump and remove him from office. Twenty of the 53 Republican senators would need to join all Democratic-voting senators to reach the two-thirds supermajority the Constitution requires for impeachment.We count 14 who have expressed at least some level of concern with Trump’s behavior on Ukraine policy, but there are only three Republican senators who have a track record of speaking out against Trump consistently:Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. In addition, it’s not a given that all Senate Democrats stay together. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has crossed party lines before.So, there probably aren’t enough senators to convict Trump as the evidence stands now. But there are enough senators in the middle of the political spectrum to put weight on Senate leaders to conduct a fair trial.