The nation’s founding fathers did a masterful job of laying out a two-step process for removing a president of the United States from office.
Impeachment is the easy part. It requires a simple majority in the House of Representatives to effectively indict the president for crimes against the nation. The current House appears poised to impeach Donald Trump on at least two counts involving abuse of power and violating his oath of office.
Conviction in the Senate is the hard part. The founders decided that two-thirds of the Senate need to convict a president who stands trial in the upper legislative chamber. The current Senate appears set to keep Trump in office. Why? Because two-thirds of its members won’t vote to convict Trump of the charges that the House will bring to them. And why is that? Because Republicans occupy 53 of the 100 seats; a conviction would require a flip of about 20 GOP seats to convict Trump. It won’t happen.
But here’s another scenario that appears quite possible if not likely.
Most of the senators might actually vote to convict Trump. There might be, say, 51 or 52 Senate votes to remove Trump from office. That’s not nearly enough to force him out of the White House. It is, though, enough of a stain on Trump’s term as president to persuade votes in November 2020 to cast him aside.
There actually might be enough voters in key states who would say, in effect: I cannot support a president who has been found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors by most of the members of the U.S. Senate.
Now, Trump likely will be able to say he avoided conviction in the Senate. A majority vote to convict him — even one that fails to clear the high bar the founders set — does not allow him to declare himself “acquitted.”
The drama well could produce a nail-biter and set up the most astonishing presidential campaign theme in our nation’s history.