New Year, New President?

Trump impeached on two counts by U.S House of Representatives 

Alisha Samnani // Opinions Editor

The United States President has officially been impeached. House Speaker Nanci Pelosi announced the majority party-aligned vote to charge the President with both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec 28, making impeachment official.  

The impeachment process began on Sep. 24 after the U.S. Congress received an anonymous complaint regarding a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It alleged that the U.S. President had held back military assistance until Ukraine launched investigations into 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The U.S. has provided security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea after a social movement that overthrew former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. 

“In the U.S. there effectively is no single conversation,” said Stewart Prest, Political Science professor at SFU. “You basically have two parallel discourses going on about politics and they don’t really overlap at all anymore. And so, in the Republican case, we’re seeing it in some of the questioning of the Republican members on the committee of conducting the impeachment inquiry.” 

The Democrats allege that the phone call was the equivalent of inviting a foreign power to intervene in the U.S. election, something that breaks American election law. This incident occurred nearly three years after U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin “engaged in a sustained effort” to influence the 2016 Presidential Election in Trump’s favour. 

“There is an obvious moment you can point to where there is an exchange being sought and supporting evidence that the President has been engaged in some sort of financial exchange. In the call between President Trump and an official from Ukraine, we walked right up to the line of him basically using Godfather-like language. It makes this exchange really clear, and easy to explain compared to other events,” said Prest. 

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and the leader of the Democratic Party, holds a lot of political power, especially after the Democratic Party gained the majority of seats in the House during the 2018 by-election. “It was essentially up to Pelosi to decide whether or not the House would go through with the impeachment inquiry,” said Prest. “The majority of the House would follow her lead on whether to vote for [it].” 

Adam Schiff is the head of the House Judiciary Committee that was formed to oversee the impeachment inquiry. This gives Schiff a lot of say over both the procedures within the committee and the terms of reference set up by the House. The committee’s 52-page report lays out the constitutional argument for justifying the President’s impeachment.  

This is the fourth time in U.S. history that a president has been up against an official impeachment inquiry—the most infamous was against President Richard Nixon. Although the Judiciary Committee report laid out clear and convincing evidence against Nixon, he avoided impeachment charges by resigning ahead of the hearing’s conclusion. 

“I think it would be unlikely for Trump to resign,” said Prest. “He would try to push and I think he’s had relatively good success by essentially sticking to his message and just pushing forward. There have been repeated predictions of his political demise before this, but he has enough support that this strategy actually works.” 

While the impeachment hearings have an obvious effect in the U.S., it also holds consequences for Canadians. “The U.S. becomes very inwardly focused,” said Prest. “It can be harder to get attention on issues that Canadians care about.”  

As one of Canada’s closest ally trading partners, instability in the U.S. can be disruptive for Canada, but may also hasten new trade policy. “The Democrats who had previously been skeptical of the agreement are now looking for ways to demonstrate that they can get things done, in order to avoid suggestions that they are being obstructionists when it comes to the Trump presidency,” said Prest. The new NAFTA agreement signed Dec. 10 is a prime example, with the re-negotiated deal signed after a flurry of last-minute changes

Whether the President is convicted and removed from office is yet to be determined. With the 2020 presidential election looming ahead, the Senate may want to act quickly to avoid an impeachment-focused line of questioning—and they have. The Senate hearing has been set for later this month. As Prest put it, “we are in this new information environment where we’re just not having the same conversation. It’s not clear if public opinion is as responsive as it used to be.” Looks like we’ll just have to wait and see. 

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