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On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, members of the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump on two charges — abuse of power (230-197) and obstruction of Congress (229-198). The historic decision culminates a three-month inquiry by House Democrats into whether or not the US leader pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations for his personal political benefit. However, the impeachment process is far from over. Here is how we got to this moment and what to expect next.
The events leading to the House impeachment
The impeachment inquiry stemmed from a whistleblower's allegations that on July 25, 2019, President Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into the business ties of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son, Hunter. To try to persuade the foreign leader, the US president allegedly withheld the nearly $400 million in federal military aid that Congress and the Defense Department had approved for Ukraine in early 2019. Though the funding was released on September 11, 2019, Democrats maintain that withholding the aid, even for a few months, was an abuse of presidential powers. Members of President Trump's Republican party, however, assert there was no wrongdoing, since the money was eventually given.
What happens next?
The US Constitution stipulates that an impeachment vote by the House is just the first step toward removing a sitting president from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) will now present the "articles of impeachment" to the Senate to start a trial, in which "impeachment managers" from the House will present their case against the president to Senate members, who will act as the jury. To ensure a fair trial, the proceedings will be overseen by US Chief Justice John Roberts.
However, though the Constitution clearly outlines the impeachment process, the rules on how a Senate trial should be conducted are unclear. Hence, before the trial begins, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will get together to determine important details. This includes whether to allow witnesses to testify, what evidence can be admitted, and how long the trial should be. Once the two leaders come to a mutual agreement, the rules will be put to vote in the Senate. If a majority of the members agree, a start date for the trial will be announced. Once the proceedings begin, the senators, all under an oath of impartiality, will work for six days a week until they reach a decision on the "articles of impeachment" presented by the House.
What is the estimated timeline for the decision?
Though it is unclear how long the trial will last, both Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed an interest in keeping it short. That certainly has been the case with trials of the two other presidents who faced a similar situation. President Andrew Jackson's Senate trial in 1868 lasted just about nine weeks, while President Bill Clinton's trial in 1998 lasted only five weeks.
How might it end?
To garner a conviction, two-thirds of the senators have to vote in favor of the "articles of impeachment." If that happens, President Trump will have to resign as the country's leader and Vice President Michael Pence will take over.
What has happened to past presidents facing a similar situation?
The US Senate has never removed a president from office. While President Andrew Jackson narrowly missed impeachment after the Senate votes fell one short of the two-thirds needed to convict, the votes against President Clinton fell far short of the majority needed. President Richard Nixon, who faced an impeachment inquiry in 1974, resigned from office before he could be impeached.
Resources: CNN.com, Telegraph.co.uk, Washingtonpost.com