Democrats are on a tight timeline here. They are trying to have a vote to impeach Trump by Christmas. They would like this off their plate and moved to the Senate by 2020 so as to avoid impeaching a president in an election year, which would both overshadow the process of selecting a Democratic nominee and give Trump extra ammunition to claim the impeachment process is driven by partisanship.
Now that actual impeachment is near, here’s an outline of the series of steps.
First week of December: The handover from the House Intelligence Committee to the House Judiciary Committee
House impeachment investigators released a 300-page report Tuesday about the wrongdoing the House Intelligence Committee and other committees uncovered in their two-month investigation into Trump. The top line takeaway: They think Trump should be impeached for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats and for withholding things Ukraine wanted until it agreed to do so.
Democrats say in the report they “uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election.”
The report is a road map for the House Judiciary Committee, which is designated to handle impeachment, to spell out why Trump should be impeached by writing up articles of impeachment. That’s the process we find ourselves in Thursday.
Before it got started writing those, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing with constitutional experts on whether Trump’s actions merit impeachment. The experts picked by Democrats said Trump violated his oath of office and abused his power and needs to go. The one expert picked by Republicans said Democrats are moving too fast. (Surprise?)
Second week of December: We will likely get articles of impeachment
If Democrats’ timing goes according to their plan, the Judiciary Committee will write up articles of impeachment against Trump within a week of getting the impeachment inquiry report. They’ll hold a hearing Monday to debate the report and how it would translate into articles of impeachment.
The report strongly hints at articles of impeachment, but it doesn’t list them. It sounds as though obstruction of Congress — for Trump’s top aides not complying with subpoenas for documents and testimony — will be one of them. Democrats might also accuse Trump of a broad abuse of power and compromising national security.
From there, it’s an open question how broad or narrow Democrats will go. The impeachment inquiry has been focused on Trump’s actions on Ukraine, and some Democrats think there’s enough fodder there to impeach Trump after hearing from the witnesses they questioned.
But Democrats could also decide to take a broad look at all of Trump’s alleged wrongdoings — such as his attempts to undermine or get rid of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as outlined in Robert S. Mueller III’s special counsel report. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) even brought up the Mueller report in his opening statements Wednesday. The thinking here is that if they’re going to impeach Trump, they might as well go big.
Whatever they decide, Democrats control the majority, so it’s likely the articles of impeachment against Trump, whatever they are, will be approved by the committee. Which means . . .
Third week of December: Congress votes on articles of impeachment
If things are still going according to Democrats’ timeline, the last week of the year before they break for the holidays will be the week Trump gets impeached by the House. The House will vote on each article of impeachment approved by the Judiciary Committee.
If any pass, it means Trump is impeached. And that means a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives (mainly, likely, Democrats) think Trump is no longer fit to serve as president.
But that will mark the end of only the first half of the process to remove a president. The approved articles of impeachment then move over to the Senate, where Trump will be on trial to determine whether he should be removed from office. Two presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate, and so far there is no evidence that Republicans are willing to defect in large enough numbers to convict Trump. We’re not even sure any House Republicans will vote to impeach him.