- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is directing the House of Representatives to start a formal impeachment inquiry into allegations that President Trump pressured the Ukranian President to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.
- In a formal announcement, Pelosi said that “the actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution.”
- She added that Trump’s actions revealed “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
- Launching an inquiry is just the first of many steps that will be required to bring impeachment charges forward.
Pelosi Announces Impeachment
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House is formally launching an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to pressure the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
Those allegations stem from a whistleblower complaint that claimed Trump had an inappropriate phone call with the Ukranian leader in July, and possibly on other occasions.
The complaint reportedly includes other instances of Trump displaying improper behavior with a foreign leader. However, those examples are currently unknown to the public, as the complaint was exclusively given to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees Wednesday afternoon.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution. Especially when the President says ‘Article II says I can do whatever I want,’” Pelosi said in her official announcement. “And this week the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.”
“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” she continued. “Therefore, today I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.”
“I am directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry. The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
There are still a lot of moving parts and a lot more that needs to happen before there are any meaningful moves towards impeachment. The key point here is that this is just an “impeachment inquiry” — meaning it is basically an investigation into whether or not the House will even begin impeachment proceedings.
What Is Impeachment?
At the very top level, the Constitution gives Congress the power to remove presidents for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
That’s pretty vague, and there is no specific definition of what exactly that means. It basically refers to an abuse of power by the president— which does not necessarily have to be a specific violation of a normal criminal law or statute.
Historically that has included abusing the powers of office or using the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain.
Under the Constitution, the House has “the sole power of impeachment” and the Senate has “the sole power to try all impeachments.”
One way to think about this is that the House plays the role of a prosecutor deciding whether to indict the president, and the Senate plays the role of the jury and decides whether to convict the president.
So when someone says that a president was impeached, that just means the House voted to impeach the president, but it does not necessarily mean the Senate voted to remove the president from office.
In fact, there have only ever been two presidents who were impeached, and neither of them were removed. Those presidents were Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. The House also started proceedings to impeach Richard Nixon, but he resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment.
House Impeachment Process
There are a couple of ways impeachment proceedings can start.
However, many experts say what will most likely happen next is that the six House committees Pelosi said were involved in investigations will send their cases to the House Judiciary Committee, the same Committee that oversaw both the Nixon and Clinton proceedings.
From there, the Judiciary Committee decides if there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to impeach the President or not.
If the committee decides that there is substantial evidence of wrongdoing, they vote to approve the articles of impeachment, which then go to the full House for a vote.
The House can either vote on each article individually or as a single resolution.
In order to impeach the president, the House only needs a simple majority to vote in favor of just one of the articles, meaning if all 435 House members vote, then 218 votes would be needed.
Right now, Democrats have a 235-seat majority in the House, which would hypothetically give them enough votes to impeach Trump, but that that does not mean all of them will do that.
According to a count by The New York Times, as of this afternoon, 210 members have said they favored an impeachment inquiry, 70 have said they opposed it or were undecided, and 154 did not respond to the question.
However, that is just those who favor an inquiry, not necessarily impeachment.
Impeachment Process in The Senate
If the House were to get enough votes to impeach the President, which is the equivalent of indicting him, it would then move on to the Senate for the “trial” portion.
During those proceedings, which are overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a team of lawmakers from the House argue their case in favor of removing the president. The president, for his part, would have defense lawyers who argue against it.
After that, the Senate votes on whether or not to remove the president based on the evidence presented. But unlike the House, the Senate requires a two-thirds majority— which is 67 Senators— to vote in favor of removing the president.
Those numbers seem pretty unlikely, given the Republican-majority in the Senate.
There is also another roadblock to even getting the Senate to hold an impeachment trial, which is that is that there is no specific provision in the constitution that could stop Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from just refusing to convene a hearing.
That is the same loophole that McConnell used to prevent a confirmation hearing and vote on former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, back in 2016.
McConnell for his part condemned the impeachment inquiry and Democrats in a statement but has not said much more about what he would do.
Some experts have also noted that the Supreme Court Chief Justice theoretically also has the power to convene the Senate for an impeachment trial. Even if that happens, the Senate’s Republican majority could just vote to dismiss the case without even looking at the evidence.
If Trump were removed, Vice President Mike Pence would take over as president.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (Reuters)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”