For only the fourth time in our nations history, the House of Representatives has voted to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, and with it a set of rules governing how the impeachment process will be conducted moving forward. The resolution tasked Representative Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to lead the next phase of the inquiry in public hearings and to write a formal report at the conclusion of his hearings to refer to the House Judiciary Committee for a potential vote on Articles of Impeachment, which would then be voted on by the full House of Representatives.
To be clear, the House of Representatives did not vote to impeach Donald Trump. At least, not yet. Their vote to set the rules on the impeachment investigation merely put on paper how the process will be conducted. It also gives the minority Republican Party the right to invite their own witnesses to testify so long as they provide "a detailed written justification of the relevance" of the witness to Chairman Schiff and if he doesn't feel the proposed witness is relevant then Republicans can request the full committee vote on their proposed witness.
Why Did The Democrats Open an Impeachment Inquiry?
A whistleblower filed a formal complaint to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community on August 12, 2019 alleging that President Trump pressured foreign government officials, specifically Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to publicly declare they were investigating 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son over his son's business dealings in Ukraine and refused to give hundreds of millions of defense aid passed by Congress until the Ukrainian President did so, otherwise known as a quid pro quo.
The Inspector General found sufficient evidence that the whistleblower's complaint was credible and was therefore required by law to inform Congress of the complaint. However, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire took the unprecedented step to prevent Congress from seeing the complaint, even after receiving a subpoena, claiming that he wasn't required to provide the complaint to Congress.
After a tense standoff, the White House finally relented and released a readout (not, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, a transcript) of the call between himself and the Ukrainian President on September, 24. The readout, to the shock of people on both sides of the aisle, was even worse than originally thought. In the readout, Trump makes abundantly clear that he will hold up aid duly authorized by Congress until Zelensky publicly states he is investigating the Biden's.
That same day, Speaker Pelosi publicly announced that the House of Representatives was opening an impeachment inquiry into the President and after two months of testimony the House has now voted to move to the next phase of that inquiry.
What Happens Next?
The House Intelligence Committee, with the help of the Financial Services, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Reform, and Ways and Means Committees, has been conducting closed door testimony since the inquiry began in late September. Now the House of Representatives is moving on to the next phase, where the House Intelligence Committee will hold public Impeachment hearings to make their case to the American public.
During the hearings, the new rules passed state that the Chairman and Ranking Member, Republican Devin Nunes, will each get 90 minutes to question any witness. Each will also be able to designate staff members or committee lawyers to conduct the questioning, which is not usually how congressional hearings are conducted, but would make it so witnesses could be questioned by experienced lawyers who understand how to ask challenging and direct questions.
After the House Intelligence Committee's hearings are concluded, they will write a report detailing their findings and deliver it to the House Judiciary Committee which will debate the report and hold on vote on whether to send Articles of Impeachment to the full House of Representatives. Then the full House will hold a debate on the Articles of Impeachment and hold a vote to Impeach the President, which only requires a simple majority of 218 yes votes.
If the President is Impeached by the House of Representatives then he will be tried in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds super majority to convict and remove the President from office. So even if the House Impeaches the President, that is not the end of this saga. In fact, it would only just be beginning.