Leading Democrats have called for accountability as the fallout of Trump's Ukraine scandal shows no sign of receding.
In the wake of revelations that US President Donald Trump prodded his Ukrainian counterpart to assist in investigating Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son, a growing number of American lawmakers are calling for Trump’s impeachment.
The allegations stem from a phone call between the US and Ukrainian presidents over the summer, and came to light after a whistleblower filed a complaint referring to the phone call and other events.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told reporters in New York that he was not pressured to probe the Biden family. “Nobody pushed me,” Zelensky said.
Trump has admitted that he discussed such a probe with Zelensky, but he insisted that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Critics are concerned that Trump threatened to withhold US aid to Ukraine if the latter did not assist the US president in investigating his political opponents.
“We had a great phone call,” Zelensky added on Wednesday. “It was normal.”
Trump then chimed in: “In other words, there was no pressure and you know there was no pressure.”
Their comments came a day after House speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would open an impeachment inquiry over the controversial phone call.
On Wednesday, the White House released a memo summarising the 30-minute phone conversation.
Previously, Pelosi had urged restraint when it came to opening any potential impeachment inquiries. On Tuesday, she said Trump had crossed the line by “asking the President of Ukraine to take actions that would benefit him politically”.
Pelosi said: “The President must be held accountable … No one is above the law.”
A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll earlier this week found that a plurality of voters – 49 percent – oppose moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, while 36 percent believe the House should initiate impeachment proceedings.
Who supports impeachment?
NBC estimates that 216 Democratic representatives and one Independent currently support “some type of impeachment action”, while 19 Democrats do not support impeachment.
In order for the House to send impeachment inquiries to the US Senate, there must be at least 218 representatives must vote in favour.
On Tuesday, Biden called for Trump’s impeachment if the president does not comply with the House’s inquiries.
Claiming that Trump believes he is “above the law”, Biden said he will “will leave Congress … with no choice but to initiate impeachment” if the president doesn’t comply.
Bernie Sanders, an independent US Senator from Vermont who’s running for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 vote, said on Wednesday that the phone call memo “confirms that Trump is abusing the powers of the federal government to help his re-election campaign”.
Writing on Twitter, Sanders said that “Trump’s corruption and self-dealing is limitless. The House is right to begin impeachment proceedings”.
US Representative Al Greene, a Democrat from Texas, told Buzzfeed News on Wednesday that he felt “vindicated” after being the first to call for Trump’s impeachment.
“I do feel vindicated. I have to be truthful,” Green told the news outlet, explaining that he had received death threats over his position on impeachment.
“But I think that many others are vindicated because it has been an effort of the many not the few.”
Maxine Waters, a Democrat and US Representative from California, published a statement in support of impeachment on Wednesday.
“I am elated that the Congress of the United States will move forward in an expedited manner to investigate and impeach this president,” Waters wrote in the statement.
“When you couple this latest action with all that we know about the president, his history, and the way in which he has conducted himself while in office, there is more than enough evidence for the Congress of the United States to launch an impeachment inquiry into this president.”
Who opposes impeachment?
Two of the three Republican challengers hoping to replace Trump on the Republican ballot for the 2020 elections support impeachment, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Joe Walsh, a former Republican lawmaker and presidential hopeful, and Bill Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, have both backed an impeachment inquiry.
“The Ukraine caper by the president is some combination of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanours,” said Weld. “The one thing that’s absolutely clear is it is grounds for removal from office.”
Walsh stated that Trump is “unfit” for the presidency, saying that the president “will deserve to be impeached very soon”.
Of the 19 Democratic House representatives who do not support impeachment, 13 come from districts that Trump won during the 2016 presidential elections, NBC reports.
US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a long-shot candidate running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said that the partial call transcript released by the Trump administration does not present a “compelling” case for impeachment.
“Most people reading through that transcript are not going to find that extremely compelling cause to throw out a president that won an election in 2016,” she told Hill.TV on Wednesday.
Gabbard had previously stated that impeachment would be “terribly divisive” for the country.
The bulk of Republican voters approves of Trump’s performance as president and oppose impeachment, polls consistently suggest.
Eighty-two percent of registered Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, a September 16-20 Reuters/Ipsos poll recently found.
How likely is impeachment?
In July, only 109 Democrats were in favour of impeachment, according to the FiveThirtyEight, an opinion poll analysis and prediction website.
More than half of those newly backing the impeachment inquiry hail from districts where Democrats either won or lost by a margin of less than 10 percentage points, the website added.
Despite the swell of support for impeachment, those hoping to see Trump removed from office are likely to end up disappointed.
Even if the House impeached Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would likely acquit him.
Of the 100 Senators, 53 are currently Republicans, 45 are Democrats, and two are independents.
Only two US presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – have ever been impeached, but neither was removed from office owing to those inquiries.
In 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon resigned from office amid an impeachment inquiry, becoming the only president to step down in the country’s history.