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A whirlwind week of political news peppered with partisan sparring, televised hot takes and all-caps tweets has led America’s governing body to an action it has taken only three times before: impeachment proceedings against a sitting president.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump committed what the Constitution calls "high crimes and misdemeanors" by pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden's son Hunter.
There is debate over whether Trump's actions – as spelled out in a whistleblower complaint and subsequent memo about a call between the two leaders – constitute a crime. But impeachment doesn't require the president to have broken the law.
Impeachment is essentially an indictment in which a majority of House members vote to initiate a trial in the Senate, for whatever reasons they deem worthy. If two-thirds of senators vote to convict at the end of the trial, the president is removed from office.
Why there's debate:
Supporters of impeachment, many of whom have argued that the process should have started after the release of the Mueller report, say Trump’s use of his office to pursue dirt on a political opponent constitutes a clear-cut abuse of power. "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office," Pelosi said.
Even though it appears unlikely the Republican-led Senate would vote to remove Trump, impeachment is still necessary, some argue, because the American people deserve a full accounting of the president's actions before they go to the polls in 2020.
Much of the opposition to impeachment echoes the president's claims that there was nothing wrong with what he did, and that Democrats are looking for any excuse to attack Trump and his administration. Others say Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president was out of line, but didn't rise to the level of impeachment. "It is possible to do something that is wrong and not be an impeachable offense," Sen. Marco Rubio said.
Arguments from both sides of the aisle have made the case that the specific facts are irrelevant, since impeachment is ultimately a political decision. Perspectives on whether Democrats or Republicans will benefit at the polls from impeachment vary widely.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said formal hearings could start as early as this week, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (who is reported to have listened in on the controversial call) claimed that timeline is "not feasible." How long it will take for the House to complete its inquiry and vote on impeachment could depend on the scope of the investigation. Recent history suggests the process could take between three and six months.
No on impeachment
Political factors show impeachment is the wrong choice
"I can see how Trump’s words and actions could add up to an impeachable offense here, but I don’t think it makes sense to impeach him for it. Impeachment is a political choice, to be made prudentially, and a year before an election, at a time when public trust in government is so dismally low already, and given that it’s pretty clear how such a process would end, impeachment doesn’t look wise." — Yuval Levin, National Review
Democrats will take any excuse to delegitimize the Trump presidency
"Since the 2016 election, Democrats have set out to reverse the will of voters using any means necessary to discredit, destroy, and remove from office President Trump by impeachment. This illegitimate assault on the office of the president is not only unprecedented, but it’s a threat to our democracy." — Mark Vargas, Washington Examiner
Eagerness to impeach led Democrats to see violations that weren't there
"What this shows, I think, is the kind of anger and even hatred of this president by his political opponents and it has blinded them. It has blinded them to the degree that they think they can make something out of nothing and there's nothing here in this transcript that is impeachable." — Bill Bennett, Fox News
Treating impeachment as a chance to score political points is wrong
"An impeachment vote should not just be an exercise in virtue signaling. … It is easy to imagine Democrats voting for a long list of complaints about how Donald Trump has conducted himself in the presidency, but the real constitutional duty is not for House members to express their feelings." — Keith Whittington, Reason
Trump committed an impeachable offense, but impeachment is still a bad idea
"I think Trump did it. I think it’s obvious he did it. I think as more facts come to light, it will become even more obvious he did it. I also think it’s obvious that this is an impeachable offense. However, that doesn’t mean I’m persuaded he must be impeached over it." — Jonah Goldberg, Chicago Tribune
Yes on impeachment
Trump's actions are a prototypical example of an impeachable offense
"A president’s use of his power for his own political gain, at the expense of the public interest, is the quintessence of an impeachable offense. It was, in fact, one of the examples the Constitution’s framers deployed to explain what would constitute 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' the standard for impeachment." — Editorial, New York Times
Impeachment is useless if not pursued in this case
"If this in itself is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning." — Tom Nichols, The Atlantic
Arguments against impeachment don't hold up
"You can get a serious case of intellectual whiplash reading up on the arguments against impeaching President Trump. Most of them, in my view, insult the notion that we are a nation of laws, that we elect representatives to act on our behalf in Washington, and that Americans can walk and chew gum at the same time." — Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
The House is obligated to impeach, regardless of the political implications
"Impeachment is the mechanism by which 'We the People' are supposed to be protected against such abuses as treason, bribery or systematic violation of civil liberties. In the face of such abuses, the House is not permitted to decide that because of political considerations, it will stay its hand." — Cass R. Sunstein, Bloomberg
The House should impeach even though Trump is unlikely to be removed from office
"Even assuming the Senate doesn’t convict, impeachment in the House will accomplish what prosecutions are supposed to — it will punish and deter misconduct." — Max Boot, Washington Post
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Erin Scott/Reuters