Impeachment 'Tricky' Even If Democrats Come Up Trumps At The Midterms
The midterm elections could doom Donald Trump's leadership, or cement him in the presidency for two more years.
The Democrats look set to wrestle back control of the US House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm elections, needing to flip just 23 seats to control the lower house of America's congress.
Considering the president's party has lost an average of 30 seats at every midterm in the past four decades, and considering Trump's own personal political disasters, there is a better than good chance the Democrats could win back the House.
If the Democrats control the House of Representatives, they could vote to start impeachment proceedings against Trump.
This is where it gets tricky.
What is impeachment?
Impeachment is like a formal censure against an official. If the impeachment motion is passed by both houses of Congress, an official can be removed from office and potentially barred from holding office again in future.
But it is a difficult thing to negotiate and pass, and only a handful of officials have been successfully impeached in the history of the United States. This is because the motion needs to pass through both chambers, with different rules and procedures in each.
For instance, if the Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives, it could be a simple matter of having a majority in support of the impeachment motion.
But then it goes to the Senate, where proceedings turn into something resembling a courtroom and those on either side present their case, before senators vote.
A two-thirds majority is required to impeach, not just a simple majority.
How common is impeachment?
Because one party holding both houses is not so common, and even less common that one party would command two-third majority in the Senate, impeachment doesn't happen very often. Only around 20 cases have even been raised for impeachment, and only around half of those have been successful.
Bill Clinton was impeached in the House but acquitted in the Senate on perjury and obstruction of justice complaints over the Monica Lewinsky affair; Richard Nixon resigned before an impeachment vote reached the House.
A sitting president has never been removed from office via impeachment proceedings.
Could Trump be impeached?
By the House of Representatives: maybe, possibly. By the Senate: almost surely not.
The Democrats look likely to win back the House. Winning the Senate too looks almost impossible, and getting the two-thirds majority they'd need to get an impeachment motion through the upper chamber would be nigh unthinkable at this point. The Democrats would need a landslide of Republicans to break away and vote against their own president, to get the needed support in the Senate.
But it might not even get that far. Winning 23 seats in the House would give them the numbers to pass an impeachment motion in the lower chamber, but many in the party don't even want to do that.
As 10 News First's Hugh Riminton outlined last week, Democratic party elders are largely against the idea of impeachment.
“I don’t think there’s a basis for doing that right now,” said former vice-president Joe Biden.
Senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN:
“Impeachment is a very divisive approach. Elections should determine who is in office.”
Without clear evidence of serious corruption, such as President Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up, the public mood appears to be hostile to impeachment. Republican support went backwards when the party moved to impeach Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair in 1998.
So, on a pure numbers basis, an impeachment vote against Trump looks very unlikely to get up if it makes it to the floor of Congress. On a political strategy level, it probably won't even happen to begin with.
What else is at stake in these midterm elections?
To be blunt, it could end Donald Trump -- but it almost certainly won't. It will likely seriously damage his presidency though, and make it harder for him to make the changes he wants. Not controlling the lower chamber will mean a lot more compromise.
But even if the Democrats only win back one house, they can make Trump's life hell. They could move to further investigate his business dealings and ties to Russia. The House can do investigations of its own, and make things very dicey for Trump.
How can I follow along?
Americans vote on Tuesday (US time) so we'll start hearing results on Wednesday morning (AEST).
Stay tuned to 10 daily from Wednesday morning as we bring you all the results and washup, including coverage from 10 News First senior reporter Hugh Riminton on the ground in Washington DC.