Understanding American Impeachment

Dear Editor,
Guyanese are overwhelmingly in favour of impeachment for Donald Trump; but, as commented upon by Guyanese, there appears to be some misunderstanding of the concept of impeachment for President Donald Trump. Most Guyanese I spoke with in Guyana and in the diaspora don’t really understand the concept of impeachment as is set out in the US Constitution. They are of the mistaken belief that impeachment equals the removal from office. “Trump done, bai! Congress impeach him! He gone!” they say. Many Americans of other ethnicities also hold the same belief.
A clarification of the meaning of the concept is warranted. Impeachment is not removal from office. I happened to have studied US Constitutional Law when I was doing a PhD in Political Science and MS in Educational Administration. Constitutional law was mandatory for both disciplines; thus, I have knowledge of the process.
Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. His trial goes to the Senate for a hearing and a verdict. If found guilty, he will be removed from office. The standards for a guilty verdict are very high, almost impossible to achieve. No American President was ever found guilty by those standards and removed from office. Will President Trump be found guilty?
A guilty verdict means immediate removal from office. With only a few days remaining in his four-year term, it is the analysis of this writer that, in all likelihood, the answer to the question of removal from office is “no”; he will be allowed to complete his term on Wednesday morning, and fly out to Miami, as has been the norm with previous Presidents. They fly out to their home state (of their choice) on a last flight on Air Force One. Obama had flown to Miami, although his home state is Illinois.
Impeachment is simply the equivalent of an indictment in a court of law. It means an allegation or a charge has been made against the President. The House examines all the evidence of the charge, and a discussion is held. That is followed by a vote among the 435 elected members of the Lower House. A simple majority vote is needed for an indictment; some 232 members vote for impeachment. The matter is then sent to the Senate, where a trial will take place. A conviction requires a ‘yes’ vote by 67 members (two-thirds’ majority) of only the elected 100 members of the Upper House. That is a most difficult task. No American President has ever been convicted (removed from office).
Trump is the only President in the history of the US to be impeached more than once. He was impeached last year, but was not convicted, and thus has remained in office. That vote took place along partisan lines – Democrats voted to impeach and remove him from office, while Republicans voted to exonerate him. The Democrats had the majority and voted to impeach him.
The current impeachment charges Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and for “inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” A dozen Republicans this week voted along with Democrats to impeach Trump. What happens Next? It is not clear if the matter will be brought up for a trial. The clock is ticking, and the Senate may run out of time. A trial and a vote must be held before Tuesday, Trump’s last full day in office. Given the limited time, with a trial taking at least two days, the Senate may ignore the process.
For a trial to take place, the Majority Leader of the Senate has to schedule the hearing. Currently, it is Republican Mitch McConnell. He may not want to touch the matter, fearing the political fallout for himself and his party. He may simply ignore the request for a trial, saying time does not allow for it, or find some other means to delay the process, which would lead to a natural death of the impeachment.
Once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday morning, all incomplete matters of the preceding administration are dead.
McConnel has been silent on his plan. McConnel’s Majority leadership comes to an end after the swearing in of the next Vice President on Wednesday.
The Senate is tied 50-50. The Vice President, who is ‘the Chair’ of the Senate, casts a tie-breaking vote. The Republican Mike Pence is the VP until Tuesday, and he will side with Republicans. Kamala Harris, a Democrat, will hold that position from January 21.
Currently, all the Democrats (50) plan to vote for conviction. Ten Republican Senators plan to support the move to expel Trump from the Presidency. The indictment is short of seven votes for a conviction. Even if two other Republicans support the vote,
five more Senators would be needed to remove Trump from office. If the vote is successful, the Vice President is sworn in as the next President. That would be Mike Pence. He would inherit all the perks of office, including a hefty $200K annual pension and security just for being President for a few days, or even a day.
McConnell will decide Trump’s fate. In all likelihood, he will not schedule a trial, and will let the clock run out. He could also hold a debate without scheduling a vote; he has that power to block a vote.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram
(Political Scientist)