Two years and 247 days in, it finally happened: an impeachment inquiry was announced.
From day one of President Donald Trump’s term, the word “impeachment” has been tossed around. Then, it was for Trump’s suspected collusion with Russia. Now, it is for his confirmed betrayal of his oath of office by asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival of his.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was patient in announcing the inquiry. It has been requested for years, but she knew to wait for the opportune moment so it would actually stand a chance in the House and Senate. Everyone was caught up in legal jargon during the Russia scandal, causing any repercussions to flop and not boding well for impeachment if it were to be pursued. This time, however, the details are clear and becoming clearer.
The summary of Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the White House released is the simplest explanation and most incriminating piece of evidence a prosecutor could dream to have.
Trump shamelessly asked that former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, be investigated by a foreign nation to serve his own agenda. He is on record saying, “There's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
The summary also explains why Trump baffled Congress by withholding $400 million of approved military aid from going to Ukraine this summer.
And unlike with the Russia scandal, things are moving quickly this time. There was only about a week between a whistleblower reporting an “urgent concern” and the summary being declassified, and Pelosi began a formal impeachment inquiry the same day the admission came out.
It seems late for impeachment considering presidential candidates are already well into their 2020 nomination bids, but this may be the perfect time for an inquiry. The Ukraine scandal is a strong foundation for a trial, and a political fallout on this scale is likely to affect Trump’s standing in the upcoming election.
And, yes, the public’s image of Trump will still matter in 2020 even if he is impeached — because this is where it gets complicated.
According to the Constitution, impeachment removes a president from office and disqualifies them from holding another honorable office under the U.S. However, the Senate has treated these as separate punishments that facilitate separate votes. If the latter does not obtain a majority, Trump may be eligible to run for reelection. Anyone who wants Trump out now sure does not want him back in, and impeachment could do enough to persuade citizens to cast their votes for someone else.
Perhaps the most meaningful effect of impeachment is the moral standard it would declare for the U.S. Is it acceptable for the head of state to breach their oath? The answer is a resounding “no,” but a failed impeachment would demonstrate otherwise. If Trump cannot be impeached, what other values that we think we champion do we shrug at?