A Storm in Washington




Until a few days ago, the possibility that Donald Trump would face impeachment seemed slim. Despite Trump’s indisputable and repeated abuse of power, and his likely obstruction of justice during the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives headed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, had refrained from giving the go-ahead to a process that would be, in almost any circumstance, a safe bet. Pelosi and her colleagues calculated that, with all the evidence, the shaky path toward impeachment could give Trump a victim narrative, an extremely convenient story ahead of the election next year. Now, Pelosi has cast aside all sense of prudence. After last week’s revelations about the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, the Democrats have decided to cross the Rubicon. For better or for worse, there is no going back.

What will happen? The first thing we must clarify is how improbable it is that the president of the United States will be removed. The path toward definite removal requires, above all else, the vote of 218 members of Congress, a simple majority in the House of Representatives. That should not be the Democrats’ biggest problem, since they control the House. According to some calculations, by the end of last week, the Democratic Party had already obtained the necessary number of votes to approve the impeachment process and send it to the Senate.

However, the Senate is something very different. There, those who are promoting Trump’s impeachment need, by law, a super majority to remove the president. The challenge is tremendous. Democrats only have 47 senators on their team. Given that 67 votes are required to remove Trump, they would need to convince 20 Republican senators to turn their backs on the president. It seems almost impossible. Why? It’s certain that, for now, Trump continues to be the master of various colleagues’ political destinies because, despite everything else, his popularity among Republican voters is overwhelming. Around 85% approve of his administration. With those numbers to back him up, it is unlikely that Republican senators would decide to gamble their future by betraying Trump during his most difficult battle.

In summary, the process that Democrats have begun has very little possibility of culminating into separating Trump from office. What do they gain, then? It is a good question. The risks are considerable. It is entirely possible that, after his hypothetical exoneration (as unjust as it may be), Trump claims victory and comes out stronger. He could, for example, presume that he has overcome an alleged plot against him and thereby liven up his electoral base. But there is a better scenario: it is also possible that, despite finally salvaging his position, the long judgment process leaves Trump exposed and badly hurt. And that’s not all; to get to the Senate, the process would obligate every Republican to vote against or in favor of Trump. If public opinion starts to favor impeachment, the brazen defense of a president so clearly guilty could cost the senators of his party dearly. The two scenarios are equally possible, although their consequences are directly opposed.

There is one last consideration to take into account. The story behind the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president entangles the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, leader of the race for the Democratic presidential nominee. It could be that debate over this subject exposes Biden to bigger scrutiny, as unfair as that may be. Months of erosion could debilitate Biden’s central argument: his ability to comfortably defeat Trump. If Democratic voters start to doubt Biden, Trump may end up ruining the most established candidate of the large group of aspiring Democratic nominees in the process. If that were to happen, Trump would, in a grim fluke of the three-way race, give rise, for example, to Elizabeth Warren as the Democratic presidential candidate. Given that Trump has always said he prefers a progressive rival like Warren to a moderate like Biden, the notorious impeachment process could turn into a blessing for the president of the United States. The variables are many and the storm intensifies. We will have to see who remains standing at the end.

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