Photo: The Atlantic retrieved
Both inside Venezuela and abroad, the Trump administration is perceived as a key ally of Juan Guaidó and the opposition still supporting him at the National Assembly. Many things can be said about the nature of such an alliance (or its reach) but, for the moment, there’s a specific risk that this relationship is facing, now that the U.S. House of Representatives is investigating the actions of President Trump and his cabinet—although this doesn’t mean he’ll be impeached or removed from office.
All of this began in a place that has nothing to do with Venezuela. On September 24th, the House began investigating a call that President Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July, and then voted to launch an impeachment inquiry, or an official investigation, on October 31st. The memorandum of the call shows Trump asking Zelensky to investigate the involvement of former Vice-President Joe Biden in an investigation against his son’s work in Ukraine. The House argues that Trump used his executive power for his own benefit, by threatening to withhold federal aid to investigate one of his 2020 opponents.
The House began investigating a call that President Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July, and then voted to launch an impeachment inquiry, or an official investigation.
Randy Pestana, an assistant director of research at Florida International University focusing on U.S. foreign policy and elections, explains that an inquiry is the first step to remove a president from office, although that doesn’t guarantee an impeachment. An inquiry consists of subpoenas for certain executive officials that help the House determine if there’s enough evidence to impeach a president. If the House considers there is, it’d vote to impeach, a process that, as Vox explains, is similar “to a grand jury handing down an indictment in a criminal procedure.” In other words, charging the president with a crime.
After the House impeaches the president with a majority vote, the Senate acts as a jury to determine if the House’s claim is enough to remove the president. According to Vox, the president wouldn’t be removed from office unless the Senate convicts him, “by a two-thirds majority.” So far, two U.S. presidents have been impeached but none have been removed.
Pestana says it’s still hard to determine how likely an impeachment is. He imagines that the Democrat-led House would approve it because “there’s enough evidence that the president did something wrong,” meaning the memorandum. But it’s unlikely that the Republican Senate would actually convict Trump.
He does point out the Nixon scenario: President Nixon was very popular among the public and Congress, but the evidence against him eventually got both the people and the Republicans to support his impeachment and removal.
Right now, only House Democrats support impeachment and, according to Pestana, many Senate Republicans, like Florida’s Marco Rubio, still oppose it.
What About Venezuela?
Pestana doubts that an impeachment would affect U.S. foreign policy with countries other than Ukraine, as the House is investigating officials who lead foreign relations with that country in particular.
Uri Friedman, at The Atlantic, also reports that in the United Nations General Assembly, in September, “U.S. officials insisted that the Trump administration’s many Venezuela-focused activities during the General Assembly made clear that it is committed to resolving the crisis no matter the political fervor in Washington.”
Pestana doubts that an impeachment would affect U.S. foreign policy with countries other than Ukraine.
But removing Trump from office would be a different story, because Vice-President Mike Pence would take office. Pestana believes Pence would still align with Trump’s foreign policy, in a more “hawkish” fashion. Just like Trump, Pence wouldn’t support Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans because it’d contradict their stance of getting Maduro out of power soon (and their attempts to restrict TPS and immigration). He probably wouldn’t take military action in Venezuela either, because it doesn’t fit into the administration’s political narrative (if they pushed to remove troops from Syria and bring them home, why would they deploy troops in Venezuela?). Pence could, instead, be more aggressive with economic sanctions.
Pestana also comments on how impeachment could affect the 2020 presidential election; the House is trying to end the inquiry—more than likely impeaching Trump—before 2019 ends, so there’s a chance that removal could happen before the November elections, even if it’s not realistic since the Senate’s trials are usually an extensive, years-long process. Pestana still expects Trump to be the Republican nominee and maintain enough support to win reelection—unless the evidence is convincing enough to have the people and the Republicans voting against him.
So, he says, Trump could win reelection even as the Senate tries to remove him. And he could be removed right after starting his second term.