On Sept. 24, 2019, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, officially announced the formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump after a whistleblower came forward, accusing the president of withholding funds from Ukraine pending an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. After a long process through the House and a trial in the Senate, on Wednesday, Feb. 5, the Senate officially voted to acquit the president on both articles of impeachment he had been charged with.
According to Article 1, section 2, clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives holds the sole power of impeachment. On Dec. 18, 2019, the House approved two articles of impeachment on two charges: obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. The Constitution states the Senate has the right to try any impeachment, which prompted the trial of President Trump’s impeachment Jan. 16.
Senior public administration major Matthew Musslewhite said he predicted the articles of impeachment would pass in the House because it is currently run by majority Democrats.
“I think [Nancy Pelosi] was really trying to hold out for a long time, but a lot of people in the Democratic party in Congress were really pushing for impeachment, and she held out as long as she could before she cracked,” Musslewhite said.
Senior political science major Alexander Matlock said as soon as Pelosi agreed to the impeachment inquiry, anyone who was watching the issue had to be thinking she had something worthwhile and worthy of a trial. Matlock also said during the trial, the important thing to keep in mind was that it was not a traditional trial.
“Impeachment has always been designed as a political process,” Matlock said. “It’s not a judicial process. It’s not a criminal process. It’s specifically worded in the Constitution that even if you do impeach someone, that doesn’t automatically send them to prison. It leaves them open to be sent to prison through a criminal trial, but it’s not a criminal investigation.”
Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached, both serving out the rest of their terms. The impeachment process began against Richard Nixon, but he resigned before the Senate went to trial.
“Andrew Johnson failed to be convicted by one vote; one vote saved him in the Senate,” Lori Klein, associate professor of political science, said. “He was impeached by the House, but not convicted by the Senate. Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. He was also impeached but not convicted. Nixon was not actually impeached, but he was going to be, and he knew it. He did not want to be the only president to be convicted, so he became the first and only president ever to resign.”
Musslewhite said because the impeachment process has only happened three other times in history, he believes this most recent example has educated younger generations on the process.
Junior social science with licensure major Paul Anderson said he’s taking this as an opportunity to keep up with history, so that in 10 years he can teach his students about President Trump’s impeachment process and the politics that surrounded it.
During the trial, the Senate voted not to hear testimonies from any witnesses. Musslewhite said he thinks senators knew the trial would end in acquittal and were trying to fasttrack the process to move on to other work.
“If you look at the Democrats running for president, half of them are senators stuck in the Capitol building, and they’re wanting to get back out in the field,” Musslewhite said. “The other Republicans just want to get back to business as usual.”
Klein said 2020 presidential candidates Sen. Klobachar, Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders parted from time spent personally campaigning in preparation for the Iowa Caucus, which occurred Monday, Feb. 3, because they were required to be present at each impeachment hearing.
Sen. Mitch McConnell has claimed the impeachment to be a partisan action, rather than a bipartisan exploration into immoral actions by the president. Anderson said he thought the claim held up because of the voting results, which were nearly exactly on party lines. The first conviction — abuse of power — was turned down directly on party lines with a vote of 48 to 52, and the second — obstruction of Congress — was nearly the same, being rejected with a vote of 47 to 53, with Republican Sen. Mitt Romney voting to convict the president. To convict President Trump of either article of impeachment, 67 senators would have had to vote to remove Trump from office.
“Mitt Romney kind of surprised me,” Anderson said. “I didn’t necessarily expect to see him vote that way, although I knew he’d been on the fence. However, Mitt Romney talked about his faith and his conscience and how that played into his decision, and I think that’s admirable.”
Anderson said the impeachment trial as a whole serves as a representation of the time we live in, where Americans — both Democrats and Republicans — are wanting and waiting to see drastic changes to policy and government.