GP Insights # 248, 8 February 2020
The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both the impeachment charges after a two-week trial without hearing any witnesses. Removal of the President required two-third of the 100 senators to vote against him, but the votes were against the impeachment with 52 to 48 on one count, and 53 to 47 on the other.
Mitt Romney was the only Republican Senator to go against the tide and convict Trump that too only on one, out of the two significant charges – that of abuse of power. Rest of the Republican Senators voted against the impeachment, while the Democrats voted in favour of it.
Although the democrats knew they did not have the numbers in the Senate and were fighting a losing battle, they hoped to garner few Republican votes in their favour, which may dent the image of Trump who is contesting the re-elections for the second term.
What is the background?
There were a few attempts earlier to initiate an impeachment process against Trump. While most of the efforts waned out early, the democrats this time pursued the impeachment process following a complaint from a whistle-blower.
They charged the President for making the release of military aid conditional on opening an investigation from Ukraine on his potential White House rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump rubbished the allegations and called them a "witch hunt". However, the timing of his 25 July phone call to President Volodymyr Zelensky and the use of the words "do us a favour", confirmed his political intention as it came shortly after he withheld the release of 391million dollars military aid to Ukraine.
The US Constitution states that the President can be removed for conviction of 'treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanour'. The Democrats seized the opportunity on allegations against Trump in misusing his authority in Ukraine to act against political opponents.
The House of Representatives dominated by the Democrats passed the impeachment resolution against Trump on two charges. First, abuse of power as President and second, obstruction of the Congress as the White House blocked testimony and documents sought by impeachment investigators. His removal was, however, subject to the same process in the Republican-dominated Senate. The Republicans wanted to swiftly complete the trial without any testimony or witnesses as it could damage their political image.
The Democrats tried to issue subpoena looking for testimony against Trump.
What does it mean?
Both the Republicans and Democrats see the impeachment process as a victory. The Republicans will try to leverage on the vindication by proving the impeachment process as a failed Democratic campaign tactic. According to a Gallup opinion poll, Trump's approval rating by the voters touched his personal highest of 49 per cent following his acquittal.
The Democrats, on the other hand, see a victory in stamping a black mark on Trump's Presidency and showing the Republicans in a bad light.
Many believe that the acquittal has made a mockery of the Senate trial in which a partisan approach failed the system by refusing even to hear witnesses. It also reveals how Trump has been successful in hijacking the Republican party, which gave the democrats only one vote as their consolation prize.