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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi today announced a formal inquiry regarding the possibility of impeaching Donald Trump.
"The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution," she said late this afternoon after meeting with key House Democrats. Trump, she said, "must be held accountable. No one is above the law."
"The announcement was a stunning development that unfolded after months of caution by House Democrats, who have been divided over using the ultimate remedy to address what they have called flagrant misconduct by the president," The New York Times reports.
"The decision to begin a formal impeachment inquiry does not necessarily mean that the House will ultimately vote to charge Mr. Trump with high crimes and misdemeanors -- much less that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to remove him," the Times explains. "But Ms. Pelosi and her leadership would not initiate the process unless they were prepared to reach that outcome."
While more than two-thirds of House Democrats have already called for impeachment, Pelosi has been cautious about the matter. But what appeared to push her over the line is a whistleblower's allegation that Trump pressured Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to open a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden -- who is a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination -- and his son Hunter, regarding the work Hunter did for a Ukrainian natural gas company. Trump has been accused of threatening to withhold aid from Ukraine if the investigation didn't happen. Journalists have found the claims of corruption on the Bidens' part to be without merit.
Under the Constitution, the House initiates impeachment proceedings and the Senate votes on whether to convict and therefore remove the president from office. A two-thirds majority is required to convict. Over the nation's history, two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached, but neither was convicted.
There have been fears that a failed impeachment would backfire on the Democrats. The House has a Democratic majority, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans. And removing Trump from office would leave the nation with Mike Pence as president, arguably a worse situation for LGBTQ people and many others than a Trump presidency, despite the numerous anti-LGBTQ, antichoice, and anti-environment actions his administration has taken. But now is moving forward.
If both Trump and Pence were removed, Pelosi would be president, as the speaker of the House is next in line. It's a remote possibility that both would be removed, but if Pelosi did become president, she would be the most pro-LGBTQ one in U.S. history.
But Pence could go down as well. Talking Points Memo is reporting that by all appearances, the vice president was involved in putting pressure on Ukraine. In a press conference in Poland this month, Pence was asked, "Did you discuss Joe Biden at all during that meeting yesterday with the Ukrainian president? And number two, can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?"
Pence said no to the first question. But to the second, without mentioning Biden, he said they discussed the issue of corruption and Trump's concern about it, and the decision Trump would make on aid to Ukraine, according to the official White House transcript. I "also told him that I would carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country," Pence said.
While the U.S. and other nations have long been concerned about corruption in Ukraine, Trump and Pence's efforts take it to a new level, TPM's Josh Marshall writes. In the Pence transcript, "in the context of what we know was happening and especially the call we know took place a month earlier, these repeated references to progress on corruption and holding up military aid until Zelensky acted could scarcely be more clear," according to Marshall.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.