US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday asked the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
The announcement came after weeks of public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee, a 300-page report and divisive rhetoric highlighting the political divide that has come to define the impeachment process.
With Democrats moving forward with impeachment charges, here’s a quick guide to how impeachment works, what happens next.
1. What is impeachment?
The founders of the United States included impeachment in the US Constitution as an option for removal of presidents by Congress.
They agreed that presidents could be removed if found guilty by Congress of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.
2. What are articles of impeachment?
The sole authority under the Constitution to bring articles of impeachment is vested in the House of Representatives where proceedings can begin in the Judiciary Committee. If the House approves articles of impeachment, or formal charges, he or she would then be subject to trial in the US Senate.
In the context of Trump, Democrats first pursued a two-month inquiry, led by the House Intelligence Committee, which submitted a 300-page report about its findings earlier this week.
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his power of office.
“The facts are uncontested,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and (a) critical Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi makes a statement at the Capitol in Washington [File: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]
The inquiry is centred on a July phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential frontrunner, and his son Hunter, who served on a board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump also wanted an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 elections.
At the time of the call, the Trump administration was withholding nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, calling the impeachment inquiry a hoax.
It’s unclear what articles of impeachment will be presented, but Pelosi’s comments on Tuesday offered a framework for what they may look like. They could also include obstruction of Congress and Justice, Democrats have said. The White House has stonewalled requests from the House for testimony and documents.
3. What happens next?
The House Judiciary Committee has announced it will hold a hearing on Monday that will include presentations on the evidence form the impeachment inquiry.
It’s unclear how long the process will take, but many expect the full House to vote by the end of the year on formal impeachment charges. Impeachment in the 435-member House must be approved with a simple majority.
Before then, however, the House Judiciary Committee will draw up and vote on articles of impeachment.
If the House votes to impeach, the matter moves to the Senate, where a trial is held. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial.
A two-thirds majority vote is required in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office.
The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. At this point, no Republicans have indicated they will vote against the president should a trial take place.
4. Who would become president if Trump was removed?
A Senate conviction that removed Trump from office would automatically elevate Vice President Mike Pence to become president, completing Trump’s term, which ends on January 20, 2021.