The House of Representatives today marked a road map to put a political trial on the president, Donald Trump, a process that can still last weeks or months and that promises to blend with the 2020 election campaign.
These are the keys to understanding what can happen from now on in the investigation to determine if Trump abused his power for electoral purposes in his contacts with Ukraine:
The resolution just passed by the House of Representatives formalizes the process that the Democratic majority in the hemicycle had developed behind closed doors and under its own rules since September.
From now on, witness interrogations may be public and broadcast live on television, and transcripts of testimonies made in private may be published.
Trump’s lawyers will be able to participate in the hearings in the Judiciary Committee and Republicans will be able to summon their own witnesses, although they must first obtain the permission of a majority in that panel and that of Intelligence, controlled by Democrats.
The White House and Republicans consider these rules a “farce”, so they could try to hinder the process. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Committee must prepare a report for the Judicial to decide whether to write articles for a political trial.
If that happens, a simple majority of the House of Representatives would be needed to start the impeachment process, which would be held in the Senate, with a narrow Republican majority.
But the growing number of witnesses who are agreeing to appear has complicated the picture and now the Democrats believe that their investigation will be extended until after Thanksgiving, which could cause the political trial to be held in January or later, according to the The Washington Post newspaper.
The president of the Lower House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, publicly insists that the calendar will depend on what is discovered in the investigation and has avoided marking deadlines.
If the political trial was convened in January, it would coincide with the campaign for the Democratic primary, which begins 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 is not clear how long a political trial could last, but the last one, that of former President Bill Clinton in 1999, lasted about five weeks, a period in which several of the primary ones considered key can enter.
Today, few in Washington expect a political trial to thrive in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be needed to dismiss Trump and Republicans control 53 of the 100 seats.
But if public opinion were in favor of political judgment, it would be more difficult for some Republican senators to justify their support for the president.
That partly explains the interest of Democrats in televising the hearings of their investigation, a step that they consider key to convincing Americans that theirs is not a purely partisan exercise and that Trump’s actions really pose a challenge to the Constitution.
For now, that challenge is complicated: only 48% of Americans now support the opening of a political trial to Trump, according to an average of FiveThirtyEight web polls.
And partisan lines remain decisive: while 84% of Democratic voters support the process, only 11% of Republicans do.