Image Credit: The White House
On Friday 13th December, Democrats in the House of Representatives formally moved two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, after several weeks of hearings and scrutiny. The articles unveiled by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, accuse the president of abusing his power and of obstructing Congress. The investigation centres around a whistle blower report which exposed how Trump threatened to withdraw $391 million in financial aid to Ukraine unless his counterpart, President Zelensky, investigated former vice president, Joe Biden, for corruption when he was in office. Biden is the one of the frontrunners to be Trump’s competition in the 2020 election. Hence, the Democrats are accusing Trump of using his position to gain access to damaging information on his political rival.
Up to now, the impeachment proceedings have been conducted by the US House Judiciary Committee, where several key witnesses have been questioned to help establish whether Trump did abuse his power. The acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, was the first to inform Congress that Trump had used the $391 million in financial aid as a bargaining chip to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation into Biden’s alleged corruption. Later, the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, confirmed this and also announced that the incentive of a state visit to the White House was introduced in an effort to further persuade President Zelensky to launch the investigation. Trump’s reluctance to aid Congress in their investigation led to the second article, obstructing Congress, being introduced.
The hearings have been met with mixed approval from the public. When the whistle blower first came out, the shock of the story made it seem like Trump was potentially in big trouble and at serious risk of being impeached. However, as the hearings have dragged, public opinion has appeared to even out across party lines. The Republicans have managed to establish a sturdy defence for their president. They have claimed that the Ukrainians were never explicitly aware of the financial aid potentially being withheld meaning that President Zelensky felt no pressure to launch an investigation into Biden.
Democratic voters seem to be relieved that impeachment has finally been moved forward. For many on the left, this has been long overdue since they reclaimed the House in the 2018 midterm elections and got a clear mandate to investigate the many infringements of office Trump has been accused of. However, there has also been a vocal wing of the Democratic Party raising questions over the way in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have gone about handling the process. Some have claimed the two articles selected, abuse of power and obstructing Congress, are not the most effective charges to see Trump removed from office. Instead they saw bribery as more sufficient, due to the caveat of financial aid being withheld.
Regardless of this, unless any further seismic revelations are produced it is highly unlikely the process of impeachment will be successful. It does appear inevitable that the Democrats, with a majority in the House, will pass the two articles against President Trump. This will make Trump the third president in US history to be impeached. However, with 53 Republicans still holding the Senate, the idea that Trump will be found guilty and removed from office is hard to believe. Democratic Senator, Richard Blumenthal, stated he believes that five to ten Republican senators could be persuaded to cross the floor and vote to remove Trump from office, yet this estimation could be overly optimistic and merely an attempt to excite the public.
Still, despite being in a vulnerable position, Trump could emerge as the main benefactor from this altercation. Trump has claimed that the Democrats will come to “regret” launching the impeachment articles against him. He labelled the process a “witch hunt” that will help him gain the sympathy of voters come the next election. It is important to remember that Trump is still enjoying relatively high approval ratings amongst the public, and the notion that the Democrats are trying to remove a democratically elected leader on tenuous charges may be unsettling to many. As well as this, the more time and money Democrats spend attempting to remove him from office, likely to no avail, the better he can deflect from his policy failures once campaigning season is underway. His populist notion of the Capitol Hill establishment attempting to remove political outsiders from doing the peoples’ work will be reinforced, and the efforts of the Democrats may well have played into his hands. However the impeachment unfolds, one thing is for certain; the partisan divide in America grows more and more entrenched.