Everyone overuses the word "historic," but this week it might be really be apt.
America is nearly 250 years old, but there have been only three previous attempts to impeach a President. Now it's Donald Trump's turn; the Democratic bid to eject him from office hits high gear on Wednesday with the first public hearings on Capitol Hill into his alleged abuses of power in Ukraine. Get set for top grade political drama, circus-like antics, and the grave reality of a presidency in peril.
Remind me what impeachment is?
The process of possibly ending a presidency between democratic elections is not to be trifled with. It's not just for getting rid of a commander-in-chief you don't like -- or even one who is bad at his job. It was designed by the Founding Fathers specifically to punish "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." One key question here is whether Trump's actions meet that standard. Did he commit a gross crime against his country or its political system?
The case for the prosecution:
Democrats charge the President of abusing his power and the public trust for personal gain, by coercing a foreign nation-- Ukraine -- to investigate his potential political rival Joe Biden. Growing evidence from senior members of Trump's foreign policy bureaucracy suggests there's a strong case that Trump created a quid pro quo by threatening to withhold military aid and White House visits unless he got his way.
The case for the defense:
Republicans are having a tough time arguing the merits of the case after Trump released a transcript of his phone call with Ukraine's president. Instead, their defense questions the process itself, as they sow conspiracy theories about the evidence in public view. One face saver would be to acknowledge Trump may have erred, but argue that his conduct falls short of impeachable standards. But the President who never admits he's wrong won't let them.
So what happens now?
Expect two more weeks of hearings, which will conclude just before the US Thanksgiving break at the end of November. The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee is likely to draw up articles of impeachment ahead of a dramatic and fateful vote in the full chamber, all before Christmas. Assuming the House does vote to impeach Trump, a Senate trial will likely take place in January.
But barring a political earthquake, the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to produce the two-thirds majority needed to convict him. So scarred for posterity but defiant, Trump will then make his next tilt at history -- by attempting to become the first impeached American president to win reelection.