Controversy surrounding President Trump seems to be unending, with Trump causing quite the chaotic news schedule just this week alone. Trump tweeted Wednesday his promise to ban transgender people from serving in the military after making a politicized and abrasive speech to the Boy Scouts of America on Monday, which prompted the organization to apologize to the scouting community for his “political rhetoric”. On Friday, Trump replaced White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, following Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s abrasive remarks about Priebus in Thursday’s explicit interview for The New Yorker. In the midst of failed attempts to repeal Obamacare and accusations of colluding with Russia, it’s not surprising that Trump’s current approval rating is hovering around 38.5% – the lowest 6-month presidential approval rating in history.
Recent polls from Public Policy Polling suggest that the number of people who want to impeach Trump is even higher than his approval rating, with 47% supporting impeachment.
Only two U.S. presidents have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1867 for removing a member of his cabinet without Congress’ approval, and – more famously – President Bill Clinton in 1998 for allegedly lying to the grand jury regarding his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton and Johnson were both acquitted on all charges. The third president in history facing impeachment was Nixon post-Watergate, had he not resigned before Congress could officially impeach him.
Impeachment can only be pursued under serious offenses, with the Constitution stating that the mechanisms for impeaching a president are “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Though this is a little vague, it makes clear that Congress can’t remove a president for being wildly unpopular – there have to be other factors at play that give solid evidence that the President is committing crimes, abusing power or significantly violating the public good.
The process of impeachment takes place in two parts: First, the House votes on one or more formal allegations to impeach the president, called “articles of impeachment”. If this passes with a simple majority, the president is impeached, but isn’t removed from Oval Office yet.
The hearing then moves to the Senate, where the president is given a trial for the allegations. If the president is convicted, they’re removed from office and permanently barred from serving in federal office in the future. The vice president then assumes the president’s office.
On July 12, Representative Brad Sherman from California was the first congressperson to file an article of impeachment against President Trump for allegedly obstructing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The current Republican majority in Congress indicates that it’s not likely Trump will end up being removed, since it’s against the party’s interest to impeach a Republican president. In the House, 25 Republicans would need to be convinced to vote on the matter during the first stage of the process alone.
While the odds of a Trump impeachment are slim to none, it would mean Vice President Mike Pence would become president – which some democrats say could be even more destructive than a Trump presidency. In an interview with International Business Times, Senator Al Franken said Pence is “ideological, I consider him a zealot, and I think that in terms of a lot of domestic policy certainly would be worse than Trump.” Pence’s policies are ultraconservative, and threaten women’s and LGBTQ rights. He would also likely provide a return to normalcy for the Republican Party, helping restore the party’s damaged brand and giving the GOP the loyalty of working-class Trump voters. However, others believe efforts like Representative Sherman’s aren’t completely in vain – if they succeeded, there’s a chance Pence wouldn’t have much time to get things done in the White House. Of course, this is dependent on how long an indictment of Trump would take.