The House of Representatives has set a roadmap for impeachment of President Donald Trump, a process that may take weeks or months to complete and promises to blend in with the 2020 election campaign.
These are the keys to understanding what may happen from now on in the investigation to determine whether Trump abused his power for electoral purposes in his contacts with Ukraine:
PUBLIC HEARINGS AND MORE RIGHTS FOR TRUMP
The resolution recently passed by the House of Representatives formalizes the process that the Democratic majority in the House had developed behind closed doors and under their own rules since September.
From now on, witness interviews can be public and broadcast live on television, and transcripts of private testimonies can be published.
Trump’s attorneys will be able to participate in hearings in the Judicial Committee, and Republicans will be able to call their own witnesses, although they must first obtain the permission of a majority in that panel and the Democrat-controlled Intelligence panel.
The White House and Republicans consider these rules a “farce,” and could try to hinder the process. In the meantime, the Intelligence Committee will have to prepare a report for the Judiciary to decide whether to write articles for an impeachment trial.
If that happens, a simple majority of the House of Representatives would be needed to begin the impeachment process, which would be held in the Senate, with a narrow Republican majority.
AN UNCERTAIN CALENDAR
Two weeks ago, both Democrats and Republicans hoped to conclude their investigation in the Lower House by the Thanksgiving holiday of November 28.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calculated that this would allow him to immediately begin impeachment and conclude it before Christmas.
But the growing number of witnesses who are agreeing to appear has complicated the picture, and now Democrats believe their inquiry will drag on until after Thanksgiving, which could lead to the impeachment trial being held in January or later, according to The Washington Post.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, publicly insists that the timing will depend on what is discovered in the investigation and has avoided setting deadlines.
THE ELECTORAL FACTOR
If the impeachment trial were called in January, it would coincide with the campaign for the Democratic primaries, which begin with the Iowa caucuses on February 3.
That would make it difficult for the six senators competing for the Democratic nomination — Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet — to campaign in Iowa and other key states.
It would also give an advantage to candidates who are not in the Senate, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro.
It’s not clear how long a political trial could last, but the latest, that of former President Bill Clinton in 1999, lasted about five weeks, a period in which several of the primaries considered key can enter.
Today, few in Washington expect a successful impeachment trial in the Senate, where it would take a two-thirds majority to remove Trump and Republicans control 53 of the 100 seats.
But if public opinion tilted in favor of impeachment, it would be more difficult for some Republican senators to justify their support for the president.
That partly explains Democrats’ interest in having their investigation hearings televised, a step they see as key to convincing Americans that theirs is not merely a partisan exercise and that Trump’s actions are truly a challenge to the Constitution.
At the moment, that challenge is complicated: only 48 percent of Americans currently support the impeachment of Trump, according to an average of FiveThirtyEight web polls.
And party lines remain decisive: while 84% of Democratic voters support the process, only 11% of Republicans do.