• Harriet Ireland

What Impeachment Means for 2020

Donald Trump’s impeachment came to a close last week as Democrats in Congress failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office. Trump’s acquittal came as no surprise to anyone in this era of heightened partisanship. However, there are consequences to this historic case that need to be considered as Trump enters the final year of his first term as president.

December 18th, 2019 saw Donald Trump become only the third president in US history to be impeached. The House unsurprisingly voted along party lines for two articles of impeachment; obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. Then the case went onto the Senate where the Republicans hold a majority, so a fight was unlikely.

House of Representatives voting on the articles of impeachment

The impeachment case runs like a normal court case, with the House judiciary committee acting as the prosecution, Trump’s lawyers as the defence and the Senators as the jury, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts presiding over the proceedings as judge. In this vein it is expected that both sides call witnesses forward and collect evidence from multiple sources to help argue their case.

Yet that didn’t happen. Former White House national security advisor John Bolton said he was willing to testify to the Senate about his knowledge of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, and a leaked transcript of his upcoming book, suggested what he would have to say would support the Democrat's case entirely. However, Republicans in the Senate voted against calling him and further witnesses to the Senate trial. Only Senators Romney and Collins, more moderate Republicans, broke party lines and voted for witnesses. Republican leaders claimed that witnesses were interviewed for the House questioning and so no additional information was required, arguing that further witnesses were redundant. This came on top of Trump’s order blocking all White House staff from testifying along with refusing to comply with any subpoenas of White House documentation.

This refusal by Republicans to agree to a proper trial was a turning point when it came to public opinion. Since Pelosi announced an impeachment hearing, support among Republican voters for impeachment has remained shockingly low, never reaching more than 15%. [1] Yet 49% of Republicans believed that witnesses should be allowed to testify, along with 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats. [2] Similarly, this week Trump fired two key witnesses to the House inquiry, from his administration. An act seen by many as pure retribution which has subsequently drawn criticism from both parties. Whilst these actions, fairly normal for the Trump administration, won’t change the hearts of many of Trump’s conservative base, many independents and moderate Republicans, the key to winning the 2020 election, might consider voting Democrat or not voting at all. Which would have a considerable effect on the outcome in November especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, birthplace of the US Constitution, where Trump only won in 2016 by a few thousand votes.

Support for Impeachment by Party | Source: 538.com

The Senate’s acquittal has given Trump a new sense of invincibility. Going into a week of election rallies across the country, Trump has belittled the Democrats, demonised Senator Romney, the only Republican to vote for impeachment on the charge of abuse of power and hailed his innocence, all to large crowds chanting ‘Keep America Great Again’. If Trump plays to this new-found power, he can continue to build up early support for the general election, whilst the Democrats continue down a bitter intra-party battle in their primaries. But it can be argued that the impeachment inquiry’s obvious partisanship and lack of respect for the country’s founding documents will encourage Democrats to turnout in November to remove Trump from office via the ballot box. Depending on how successful the eventual Democratic presidential candidate is, if a democratic controlled senate becomes a reality in November, there is no stopping Nancy Pelosi calling for another impeachment trial which will most likely have a very different outcome.

[1] https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/impeachment-polls/

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/28/politics/quinnipiac-impeachment-poll-witnesses/index.html

At the time of writing, Harriet Ireland is a fourth-year student at the University of Edinburgh. She is studying History and Politics. Areas that interest her the most are US politics and UK foreign relations.