The move by House Democrats to introduce two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Tuesday came after nearly three months of investigation into whether the president violated his oath of office by pushing Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rivals.
Here’s a look at where we are in the process and what comes next.
What’s happening now?
Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry in September, House Democrats have been investigating the Trump administration’s moves on Ukraine. The House Intelligence Committee led the probe into the decision to withhold a White House visit and nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine, as well as whether the country’s new president was pressured to announce an investigation into Trump’s political rival.
The committee held closed-door and public hearings with current and former U.S. diplomats and key foreign policy officials, though most Trump administration officials refused to cooperate. Witnesses included individuals who had listened in on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump had reportedly asked for “a favor” and suggested looking into allegations about 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son.
Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who heard the call, described it to lawmakers in November as “unusual and inappropriate.” U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that there was a “quid pro quo” — conditioning a White House visit on an announcement of a probe into the Bidens — and that “everyone was in the loop.”
The Intelligence Committee announced their findings in a 300-page report they passed on to the House Judiciary Committee, which held its own hearings with legal experts and congressional staff attorneys summarizing evidence and arguments for and against impeachment. (House Republicans also released their own report in response.)
On Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler introduced two articles of impeachment against the president: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The resolution states that Trump used the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election by pushing Ukraine to announce investigations that could benefit his reelection campaign. It also charges the president with obstructing the House investigation by defying congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony relevant to the inquiry.
What comes next?
The House Judiciary Committee announced it would begin the “markup” of the resolution at 7 p.m. (yes, p.m.) Wednesday and finish sometime Thursday. During the markup, lawmakers will debate and possibly make changes to the resolution. The Judiciary Committee could then vote on the articles as soon as Friday.
The impeachment resolution would then move to the full House, where lawmakers will debate the measure again, followed by a full House vote. That is all expected to happen next week. Lawmakers need a simple majority to approve the articles of impeachment. With a party-line vote, it would pass.
If lawmakers vote to impeach Trump, the Senate takes over to determine if he should be removed from office.
What is the Senate’s role?
While the Constitution tasks the Senate with holding a trial to determine whether or not to remove a president from office, it does not provide specific requirements for how that process plays out. Senate Republicans could wait until January to hold a trial — likely after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he would not hold one before the Christmas recess.
Susan Low Bloch, a Georgetown University law professor who testified as a constitutional law expert in 1998 during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, said Republicans will likely go through the motions of a trial to publicly show they are giving the issue due diligence, but they will want to vote as quickly as possible. For reference, Clinton’s Senate trial took about a month.
During the trial, a team of House lawmakers will be appointed “managers” to act as prosecutors and make a case against Trump before the Senate. In 1998, 13 House Republicans from the Judiciary Committee were picked to argue against Clinton. Trump would also have a legal team to defend him. The Senate has the power to call witnesses and request relevant documents. Most likely, however, Senate Republicans will minimize repetition of the testimony from the House inquiry, said Frank O. Bowman, a law professor with the University of Missouri and author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump.”
“The Republicans will have the greater voice in how all this goes down because they have the majority,” Bowman said. “But once they reflect on it a bit, I think they will realize that they have very little interest in actually really bringing forward any witnesses.” Republicans, he added, will resist Democratic efforts to subpoena Trump administration witnesses, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who have previously refused to testify.
Removal requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, which means 20 Republicans would have to vote in favor — an improbable outcome.
What happens after the Senate trial?
If Senate Republicans stand behind the president, Trump will be acquitted of the charges and permitted to serve the rest of his term. Either the House or the Senate could still vote for a resolution to censure, which is an official rebuke of the president’s actions but does not carry any material punishment like removal.
If impeached and acquitted, Trump could still run for reelection in the 2020 race. It’s unclear how impeachment would affect his prospects of winning a second term, but it would likely tarnish how history views his presidential legacy.