Commentary: Civics 101: House Democrats vote to impeach Trump

Algenon Cash

Commentary: Civics 101: House Democrats vote to  impeach Trump
January 01
14:00 2020

By Algenon Cash

On December 18, 2019, the House of Representatives approved articles of impeachment against the 45th president of the United States – charging Donald J. Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  

Trump, the third U.S. president in history to be impeached, joins a rare club that includes Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Prior to Trump, Johnson was the only president to be impeached during his first term.

Despite popular belief, Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, was never impeached. Nixon sensed his loss of political support and felt it was inevitable the House would impeach him. Nixon resigned the presidency after the House Judiciary Committee voted to adopt three articles of impeachment against him, but his resignation was prior to the full House vote to impeach. Nixon’s former vice president, Gerald Ford, pardoned him for his alleged crimes, after he was sworn in as the new president.

Trump’s impeachment was largely passed along party lines with no bi-partisan support in committee or the full House vote. However, more votes were cast in support of Trump’s impeachment than any other impeached president in U.S. history. 

In August 2019, a whistleblower complaint alleged Trump abused his power when he withheld an invitation to the White House to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a $400 million military aid package to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Furthermore, Trump wanted to promote a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

This kind of back room “quid pro quo” is routine in foreign affairs – one foreign leader may use some type of aid to negotiate a better deal for their respective country. What’s not routine is coercing a foreign country to investigate a political rival in attempt to shift the outcome of a democratic election. Newly minted House Democratic leaders announced a formal inquiry in September.

Voters who don’t quite understand the impeachment process thought president Trump may be removed from office in short order. But, in fact, the House of Representatives only have the authority to impeach or charge a sitting president with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6 of the U.S. Constitution gives the Senate the “sole Power to try all impeachments.”  Two-thirds majority of present members is required to convict the president on the charges alleged in the House.

In other words, a police officer may accuse you of murder, but it’s the judge and jury that will decide guilt or innocence. Similar to how all of us are entitled to our day in court, the president has the same benefit according to the Constitution.

Needless to say, the process is just beginning.

You may recall the impeachment of Bill Clinton. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives impeached Clinton when they passed articles of impeachment on two charges – lying under oath and obstruction of justice. However, on February 12, 1999, Clinton was acquitted on both counts as neither received the necessary vote threshold required to convict and remove a sitting president from office.

Currently House Democrats have chosen not to deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate – which delays any trial from commencing. If no trial was to ever occur, then Donald Trump can remain in office, and perhaps even the first president in history to win re-election after being impeached.  

House Speaker Pelosi has declared she will hold the articles of impeachment indefinitely until she receives solid confirmation the Senate will conduct an impartial trial that will be held free of undue influence from the White House.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that for the impeachment trial, he would be in “total coordination with the White House counsel’s office,” saying, “I’m going to take my cues from the president’s lawyers.” Considering the Senate acts as jurors in the impeachment trial, this would be akin to the jury foreman coordinating with the defense attorneys. Any legal scholar would say this is virtually unheard of in any courtroom.

Meanwhile, the impeachment could have great influence over the 2020 election cycle, either causing those who support Trump to show up in record numbers to demonstrate they are behind the president or possibly giving a boost to Trump’s Democratic rivals without the president having a fair opportunity to plead his case. Neither outcome is desired.

Algenon Cash is a nationally recognized speaker and the managing director of Wharton Gladden & Company, an investment banking firm. Reach him at

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