What Does Impeachment Mean? Breaking Down Trump’s Trial

What happens now that the president has been impeached? We've broken it down.

As we know by now, President Donald Trump has been impeached. But what does that mean? What comes next?

Here are 3 things to keep in mind about impeachment:

1. It matters, even if the Senate doesn’t indict him. As a refresher, The House has the power to impeach the president. The Senate has the power to remove him. Regardless of what the Senate decides to do, he has been impeached.

2. This wouldn’t have happened without the 2018 midterm elections. And it shows that activism works.

And 3. Impeachment means accountability.

Now let’s dive in.

So what comes next?

Once the House impeaches the president, the process moves to the Senate, where they hold a trial to decide whether to indict or acquit the president. Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 Senators, would have to vote in favor of indictment in order for that to pass. It’s very unlikely it’ll happen with Trump, because the Republicans have a majority in the Senate. Even if all 47 Democrats and independents voted to convict Trump, at least 20 Republicans would need to join them to remove Trump from office. But regardless of what the Senate decides to do, impeachment is done, and final. Bill Clinton was impeached, acquitted by the Senate and stayed in office. (If Trump does get removed, he won’t be able to run for office again.)

No president in America’s 243-year history has been removed from office through this process. Only three have ever been impeached. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is very vocal about supporting the president — even to the point where he could be violating his oath of office, because the Senate is supposed to hold a fair and impartial trial, according to the Constitution. Because of this, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has indicated she may wait before formally passing the baton to the Senate, as she wants Senate leaders to pledge to a fair process. Before a Senate trial starts, she has to appoint “impeachment managers,” or House representatives who basically act as prosecutors during the trial, arguing their cases before the jury, the Senate.

If you’re wondering about Richard Nixon, he actually chose to resign from the presidency before his impeachment trial was even done.

So why impeach him if he won’t be removed from office?

It’s important for Senators to go on the record about whether or not they support his behavior: abuse of power in the form of pressuring a foreign government to investigate his rivals and withholding crucial assistance in order to do so, and obstruction of Congress — at every stage, Trump refused to cooperate with the inquiry.

So the Senate Republicans face a huge test during the trial, too. We’ll get to see if people like Mitt Romney mean it when they speak out against Trump, or if they like to hide behind their Twitter feeds. And judging by the amount of mass support for impeachment seen around the country in protests this week, their decisions will be a factor in elections come November 2020. We’ve already seen this play out in the House: all the Republicans voted against impeaching Trump, on the record saying his behavior is perfectly okay, and many of them have decided to not even run for re-election. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the House, made a surprise announcement after the vote that he’s not running for re-election in 2020.

What does it all mean?

Impeachment is also important because it means we have accountability. That’s something our generation hasn’t seen much of when it comes to the most powerful people in the country, and certainly not for the last three years. If you’re a millennial, you’ve lived through the war in Iraq (where there was no accountability), the war in Afghanistan (which is still happening), the 2008 financial crisis (where no one went to jail), and not one, but two elections where the person who won the popular vote wasn’t the one who ascended to the presidency.

It’s understandable for people to not have a lot of faith in government. But impeachment means a majority of the House is paying attention, and has decided to formally hold Trump accountable for abuses of power. At least for now, we don’t live in a monarchy. It’s a message to Trump that he can’t get away with everything. While all of this has been happening, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who helped lead the pressure campaign on Ukraine with the president’s approval, has *still* been flying to Ukraine to try to continue to dig up dirt on the Bidens. And Trump knows about it.

Impeachment shows that activism works. It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion: there was a good chunk of time where it didn’t seem like House Democrats were going to do it. But there was long and sustained pressure from a lot of activists, and constituents showing up to town halls and pressuring their representatives in Congress factored into a lot of decisions to vote yes.

Elections have consequences

Finally, impeachment is a reminder to the American people that elections have consequences. None of this would have happened if Democrats hadn’t won a majority in the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Trump wouldn’t have been investigated, impeachment wouldn’t have been brought to the floor, accountability wouldn’t have happened. If Republicans kept the majority, they’d be running interference for Trump and blocking investigations into his many, many entanglements with actual criminals. There’s a lot of information we’ve learned because of this process.

So remember this: Trump is the first president to be impeached in his first term in office (Andrew Johnson was technically serving out the rest of Lincoln’s term after he was assassinated, but he too only served once). That means he’s the first impeached president to run for re-election. And that means that American voters have their own chance to acquit him, or remove him from office.
Impeachment matters.

The rest is up to you.