The impeachment fat was already in the fire. Last week’s partisan vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives to proceed with a formal impeachment process produced a roaring blaze. It won’t be long before the impending conflagration starts claiming victims.

But who will they be – Republican legislators who are challenging the effort to remove President Trump as one of the worst cases of sour grapes in world history or Democrats who insist a cancerous presidency must be removed from the body politic?

One thing appears certain – this has far more to do with the 2020 presidential election than it does with the most recent of a long line of allegedly impeachable offenses committed by this country’s most unorthodox of chief executives.

While much is unknown about what will transpire in the weeks, perhaps months, ahead, two things appear certain.

House Democrats will pass articles of impeachment against Trump that set the stage for a Senate trial and potential removal from office. Senate Republicans will reject impeachment allegations, and Trump will remain in office.

Not only will Trump, almost assuredly, remain in office, there may not be a trial.

Republicans are laying the groundwork – indeed, it’s Democratic-groundwork – to waylay the impeachment process before it gets off the ground in the U.S. Senate, and they can thank the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd for the precedent.

In 1999, as the Senate impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton was set to begin, Byrd filed a motion to dismiss impeachment charges. All that was required for passage was a majority vote, and Byrd’s proposal was barely defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Clinton’s impeachment trial went forward, but he was acquitted. Just 45 of 100 Senators supported Clinton’s conviction, a number well short of the required two-third’s majority.

Is a similar measure in the offing? If the Democratic House majority can vote to impeach Trump, the Republican Senate majority can dismiss the impeachment charges.

Lost in all of this gamesmanship is the substance of the allegations against Trump, the claim that he threatened to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine unless that country’s top officials conducted an investigation of Hunter Biden’s business relationship with a Ukrainian oil company.

Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have been conducting a closed-door investigation of the charges, releasing piecemeal bits and pieces of the evil.

Under the House vote, that process now will be formalized before the House Judiciary Committee and public hearings will be held and witnesses called.

Democrats insist they’ve been nothing but fair during this entire process, an assertion Republicans emphatically reject. But the majority party in the House has kept a firm grip on rules that limit Trump’s and committee Republicans’ participation in the investigation.

Democrats insist the GOP will have more latitude in the judiciary committee hearings while, at the same time, insisting they maintain veto power over whatever it is Republicans wish to do in presenting evidence undercutting the Democratic narrative.

If that sounds like a recipe for a partisan knife fight, it’s because this will be a partisan knife fight.

The impeachment process is, by its very nature, political. But it certainly should not be thoroughly politicized, as the proposed Trump impeachment is.

Ultimately, the decision will be left to the voters in the 2020 election to decide how to proceed. Democrats are betting they can rough Trump up enough to make his re-election impossible while Republicans are taking the position that voters will not appreciate Democratic overreach.

Who wins the bet will be determined by which party m aneuvers the most skillfully as the impeachment and election process unfolds over the next 12 months.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

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