Talk of impeachment began swirling around President Trump’s curiously coiffed head before he even stepped into office. In 2016, three legal experts published a memorandum claiming Trump would be in violation of the Constitution the first day of his presidency due to conflicts of interest. Specifically, he would be violating the Foreign Emoluments clause due to “a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents.” The authors: Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School; Norman Eisen, former chief ethics counsel to President Barack Obama; and Professor Richard Painter, former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush.
A February survey from Public Policy Polling showed 46 percent of those polled wanted him impeached. Several notable Democratic Representatives — Maxine Waters (Calif.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), and Joaquin Castro (Texas) — have also vocalized their support. At a Tax March on April 15, Waters even led a crowd of activists in a chant: “Impeach 45! Impeach 45! Impeach 45!”
So, why haven’t we impeached him yet?
It’s pretty simple. The U.S. House of Representatives has not actually launched impeachment charges. Facing a Republican-controlled House and Senate, even Democrats are reluctant to put the process in motion.
“You don’t impeach somebody because you don’t like their policies,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, at a National Press Club gathering in Washington, D.C., in February. “When they break the law, that’s when you have grounds for impeachment. It’s very hard, impeachment. It’s very hard.”
John Bonifaz weighed in on Pelosi’s reluctance in a Reddit thread on April 25. Bonifaz is co-founder and president of the activist group Free Speech For People — one of two activist groups who launched the Impeach Donald Trump Now campaign. “Nancy Pelosi needs to be pressured by her constituents on this and by people around the country, given her position of leadership in the House of Representatives,” he said. “She has apparently been telling Democrats not to sponsor any impeachment resolution.”
Pelosi is right about one thing: Impeachment is hard. Though several federal judges have been removed from office through the impeachment process, no U.S. president ever has. Both President Bill Clinton and President Andrew Jackson were impeached in the House but acquitted in the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on one article of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee.
If it ever comes to pass, what would it look like? The House votes to impeach, the Senate conducts the trial, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (currently John Roberts) presides over the trial. The House currently has 193 Democrats; 218 votes would be required to impeach. The Senate currently has 48 Democrats or Independents; 67 votes would be required to convict the president on articles of impeachment. It might take a big shakeup during the 2018 midterm elections to increase the odds. (Numerous campaigns are already trying to make this happen, including Swing Left and The Indivisible Guide.)
But what about the question on everyone’s mind? According to activists at the Impeach Donald Trump Now campaign, the single most frequently posed question about this entire impeachment scenario is this: “Are we any better with Mike Pence being our president?” That question is hotly debated. Some legal experts argue that impeachment would create a splintered Republican party in which the new president would be weakened.
Bonifaz of Free Speech For People takes this stance. “Any vice president assuming the presidency following the impeachment and removal of the prior president will be under even closer scrutiny to comply with the Constitution. We cannot set the dangerous precedent of allowing this president to trample on the Constitution because of political questions about his successor. If we were to do that, we would just be abandoning the fundamental principle that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.”
In the meantime, the internet has made it easier than ever to see how far some Republicans will go to stonewall on impeachment. MoveOn.org has just released TrumpTruthHiders.com, a website that shows how House Republicans voted on resolutions and amendments that would grease the wheels for impeachment. You can see how Members of Congress have voted on things like demanding Trump’s tax returns (which would help assess potential violations of the Emoluments Clause), or demanding documents related to the Russian interference in the 2016 election (which could help assess potential treason). Go to the website, type in your zip code and click on a Member of Congress. You’ll see, for example, how many times Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) has acted to “protect Trump instead of the truth.” (The answer is 10.) The page then provides handy links so you can call him directly and voice your displeasure — or call out his actions on Facebook and Twitter.
Impeachment, if it were to happen, is likely to be a long slog. By example, the Watergate break-in occurred in June 1972; the Senate Watergate Committee began nationally televised hearings in May 1973; the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment in July 1974; Nixon resigned in August 1974. But clearly, momentum can build and surprising things can happen.
“When Congressman John Conyers starting calling for an impeachment investigation in the Watergate era, there were only a few Democrats on board with him,” Bonifaz said. “Then, in 1974, by a bipartisan vote of 28-10, the House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment and Nixon resigned.” That means seven Republicans voted for articles of impeachment for fellow Republican Richard Nixon.
Some day, we might look back and read a Wikipedia article entitled “Timeline of the Trump Impeachment.” In the meantime, here is an early look at how grassroots efforts are shaping up.
Jan. 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day): Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States and immediately begins violating the U.S. Constitution, at least according to three legal experts. Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School, Norman Eisen (former chief ethics counsel to President Barack Obama), and Professor Richard Painter (former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush) released a report in 2016 that said that due to “a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents” deriving from his existing business arrangements, Trump would be violating the foreign emoluments ban from the moment he took office.
Feb. 9: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) submits a Resolution of Inquiry to the House Judiciary Committee. It asks the Department of Justice to provide the House of Representatives documents relating to the president’s financial practices, including the administration’s possible ties to Russia. It’s not a call for impeachment, but it would help lay the groundwork for one.
Feb. 16: Organizers from the Impeach Donald Trump Now campaign, consisting of constitutional lawyers and activists, walk into the office of Jamie Raskin, the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th congressional district, and hand him a petition containing more than 850,000 signatures from Americans in favor of starting the impeachment process. Raskin is on the House Judiciary Committee and knows a thing or two about impeachment. He teaches constitutional law and legislation at American University, Washington College of Law, in Washington.
Feb. 27: Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, speaks at a National Press Club gathering in Washington, D.C. She argues that the case for impeachment has not fully been made.
Feb. 28: Voting along party lines, the 40-member House Judiciary Committee kills Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry (H.Res. 111). Nadler later tweeted, “Today we learned who wants to know the truth and who wants a cover-up . . . on the record.”
Feb. 20: Democracy Spring Georgia, a political group advocating for nonviolent civil disobedience, hosts a 5-mile impeachment march through Atlanta. Hundreds show up.
Feb. 21: The city of Richmond, California, becomes the first city to call on Congress to launch an impeachment investigation of President Trump.
March 7: Alameda, California, approves a model resolution calling on Congress to launch an impeachment investigation of President Trump. Charlotte, Vermont, also introduces and passes a model resolution at its Town Hall Meeting Day.
March 15: Cities across the United States hold Tax Marches demanding that Trump release his tax returns. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), outspoken Trump critic, appears at the Washington, D.C., march and says, “I will fight every day until he is impeached.” She proceeds to lead the crowd in a chant, “Impeach 45!”
March 28: The City Council of Berkeley, California, adopts a resolution supporting an investigation into the impeachment of President Trump.
April 3: The City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts, votes to urge the U.S. House of Representatives to consider a Trump impeachment.
April 4: Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, author of 14 books, and former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, publishes the video 4 Grounds to Impeach Trump. It now has more than 5 million views.
April 18: American University Professor Allan Lichtman, who predicted that Trump would win the election, publishes The Case for Impeachment, in which he describes eight ways that Trump could be removed from office.
April 25: Leaders of the Impeach Donald Trump Now campaign turn to Reddit, a social media news website, to answer questions about the movement. The group consists of constitutional lawyers, organizational leaders, activists and nearly 1 million citizen supporters. One participant asked, “Why hasn’t something been done?” Ron Fein, legal director of Free Speech For People, responded: “We need to apply some grassroots pressure to Members of Congress.” He recommends calling them directly. He provides links to the Call My Congress website and a sample phone script.
Fein also recommends growing grassroots support at the city level. “A key part of the strategy is getting your city or town government to pass a local impeachment resolution,” Fein said. He provides links to this Guide for Local and State Resolutions in Support of Impeachment.
April 28: Los Angeles City Council meets to discuss a resolution to impeach Trump. A committee votes unanimously to advance the resolution to the full L.A. City Council.
April 28: Georgians for the Impeachment of Donald Trump hold an Impeach Trump Rally in Valdosta, Georgia.
April 29: During its annual Town Hall meeting, Leverett, Massachusetts, approves a resolution to support Congress in an investigation into the impeachment of Trump.
May 1: The Impeach Donald Trump Now petition has 937,533 signatures.