There’s no standard timeline for impeachment; this is only the fourth time Congress has formally considered impeaching a president. But Democrats have a timeline of their own: the 2020 presidential election. They would like impeachment off their plate and to the Senate by 2020 so as to avoid impeaching a president in an election year, which would both overshadow the process of selecting a Democratic nominee and give Trump extra ammunition to claim the impeachment process is driven by partisanship.
Once the House votes on whether to impeach Trump, we’re through only the first half of the process.
Here’s an outline of what we can expect next.
First week of December: The handover from the House Intelligence Committee to the House Judiciary Committee
House impeachment investigators are expected to release a report Monday to members of the House Intelligence Committee about what wrongdoing was uncovered during their two-month impeachment inquiry. The Intelligence Committee will vote on whether to approve it by Tuesday evening, after which the report could get released publicly.
Republicans on Monday tried to preempt that narrative with their own report, which was obtained by The Washington Post. It says Trump did not commit impeachable offenses when he asked Ukraine to investigate Democrats, and that the impeachment inquiry is “an orchestrated campaign to upend our political system.”
The Democrats’ report is expected to answer this: Did their closed-door hearings with 17 witnesses, and public hearings with a dozen of them, uncover enough evidence to write up articles of impeachment? (Judging by Democrats’ language on impeachment, the answer is yes.)
But the report won’t list articles of impeachment. It will be a road map for the House Judiciary Committee, which is the committee designated to handle impeachment, to list why Trump should be impeached. When it does, we’ll officially be out of an impeachment inquiry, and Congress will be moving toward impeachment.
But we’re getting ahead of the timeline. The Judiciary Committee doesn’t need to write up articles of impeachment to get started. It will have its first public hearing Wednesday. Constitutional experts will explain what impeachment is and what the Constitution says about impeachment.
It looks as if the strategy is to lay the groundwork for what past presidents have done to be impeached and why Trump fits that mold. “Our first task is to explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump,” said Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in a statement.
Nadler invited Trump and his lawyers to attend and even ask witnesses questions. Trump’s attorneys have said they will not participate in Wednesday’s hearing. (Trump will have a formal opportunity to defend himself during the Senate trial.)
Second week of December: We will likely get articles of impeachment
If Democrats’ timing goes according to their plan, the Judiciary Committee will present articles of impeachment against Trump within a week of getting the impeachment inquiry report.
We don’t yet know what those will be, though to hear Democrats talk, it sounds like obstruction of Congress — for Trump’s top aides not complying with subpoenas for documents and testimony — will be one of them. Democrats might also accuse Trump of a broad abuse of power. From there, it’s an open question how broad or narrow Democrats will go. The impeachment inquiry has been focused on Trump’s actions on Ukraine, and some Democrats think there’s enough fodder there to impeach Trump after hearing from the witnesses they interviewed.
But Democrats could also decide to take a broad look at all of Trump’s alleged wrongdoings — like his attempts to undermine or get rid of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling as outlined in the Mueller report. The thinking here is that if they’re going to impeach Trump, they might as well go big.
Whatever they decide, we can expect several public hearings this week as lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee debate the articles and then vote on them. Democrats control the majority, so it’s likely the articles of impeachment against Trump, whatever they are, will be approved by the committee. Which means . . .
Third week of December: Congress votes on articles of impeachment
If things are still going according to Democrats’ timeline, the last week of the year before they break for the holidays will be the week Trump gets impeached by the House. The House will vote on each article of impeachment. If any pass, it means Trump is impeached. And that means a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives (mainly, likely, Democrats) think Trump is no longer fit to serve as president.
But that will only mark the end of the first half of the process to remove a president. The approved articles of impeachment move over to the Senate, where Trump will be on trial to determine whether he should be removed from office. Two presidents have been impeached by the House, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate, and so far there is no evidence Republicans are willing to defect in large enough numbers to convict Trump. We’re not even sure any House Republicans will vote to impeach him.