Impeachment: What Happens Now?

Let’s assume that you’ve heard that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the House has launched a formal impeachment inquiry. The move was precipitated by President Trump's alleged pressuring of Ukraine to investigate Trump's potential presidential rival, Joe Biden. 

An “Impeachment Umbrella”

Political observers and talking heads were quick to point out that Pelosi’s announcement did not answer important questions concerning the impeachment process and strategy. For example, the Speaker did not say whether or not the House was going to vote on a resolution that would officially and formally open an impeachment inquiry. The House took such a vote during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment proceedings, but as of now, it is unclear if Pelosi will put it to an official a vote. (Plus, there is a debate over whether a resolution opening an impeachment inquiry is required.)

Instead, Pelosi stated that six committees too would continue their investigations into the president's behavior under a new, though unofficial, 'impeachment umbrella.' The committees' work mostly stays the same, though now it will be conducted more openly towards setting up a case for impeachment instead of proceeding under the guise of oversight. And, importantly, it will likely be done with a new sense of urgency given that the Speaker is now behind the impeachment effort.

Looking Ahead

At some point (when - another important question at this time), these committees will make recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee as to what they feel (if anything) warrants inclusion in official articles of impeachment resolution. (It has also been reported that the House may turn to a special panel to handle the articles of impeachment, removing it from the purview of the Judiciary Committee, but the likelihood of this scenario is also unclear at this point). A special committee may focus the efforts into a single panel instead of sprawled out across six committees. In doing so, it may also create space between the Judiciary Committee and its chairman, who is considered by some to be polarized, and the impeachment effort. A special committee could even steer additional funds and staff to the impeachment effort. However, the committee and its chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., will likely resist moving the proceedings outside of his jurisdiction, creating a fight that Democrats may not want to have heading into an election year. 

After hearing the impeachment recommendations brought forward by the various committees under the impeachment umbrella, the Judiciary Committee (or special panel if one is established), will decide if the evidence warrants subsequent action. Assuming the charges presented meet an impeachment threshold in the eyes of a majority of committee members, they will then draft a resolution containing articles of impeachment that outline the specific charges against the president. (The resolutions containing articles of impeachment outlining specific charges against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton can be found here and here.) With a simple majority vote, the committee sends the articles of impeachment to the full House for consideration.

Once on the floor, House leaders will decide whether to consider the resolution reported from the committee in its entirety or if the House will review each article of impeachment individually. As outlined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, impeachment requires only a simple majority of members present and voting. Should the House vote to impeach, the House will then select managers, either by resolution or Speaker authority, to give the articles to the Senate. Finally, the House will adopt a resolution that is sent to the Senate officially notifying the chamber of the House’s actions, alerting them that the selected managers have been selected to present the House’s adopted articles. Then the Senate takes the ball (and will be discussed in a subsequent post).