Impeachment Talk Grows, But It’s Not Going To Happen Anytime Soon

Even with the revelations of the last three weeks, impeaching the President is still largely a fantasy.


Over just the past several weeks, the revelations about President Trump and his Administration have been coming out fast and furious to the point where speculation about Trump being removed from office is now entering the mainstream. It started with F.B.I. Director James Comey confirming in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Bureau was indeed investigating the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia as part of its broader inquiry into Russian interference in the election. The Monday after that testimony, Trump fired Comey under circumstances that seemed quite odd at the time and which Trump himself later seemed to confirm were related primarily to his irritation over that investigation. We also learned that, on at least one occasion, Trump had asked for a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey that Comey refused to give. On Monday, we learned that Trump had shared highly classified information regarding ISIS that the United States had apparently received from Israel with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that former F.B.I. Director Comey had kept detailed memoranda of his conversations with the President, including one in which President Trump allegedly asked him to quash the investigation into Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, an allegation which brings up memories of the obstruction of justice charges leveled against Presidents Nixon and Clinton during scandals in their Administration. All of this after only 118 days in office.

With these matters now in the public, and many in Washington and elsewhere openly wondering what might come next, there is, as I said, open speculation now about removing Trump from office. The first thought, of course, is the idea of impeachment, an idea that has been floating in the blogosphere and on some cable news shows for weeks now, but which is now entering the mainstream:

The elephant in the room whenever talking about President Trump and the Russia investigation is the big “I” word — impeachment.

The word had been in the not-so-far reaches of liberal conspiracy talk since Trump was elected. There is a website with more than 976,000 signatures on a petition encouraging Congress to impeach Trump. There is even an “Impeach Donald Trump” Twitter handle.

It is highly unlikely — almost zero chance — that Trump would be impeached by a Republican Congress.

But with the revelation that James Comey, who was fired as FBI director last week, penned a memo after a Valentine’s Day meeting with Trump in which Comey associates say Trump asked him to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the “I” word is creeping its way into the mainstream.

Asked on CNN by Wolf Blitzer after the news broke Tuesday evening whether Trump could face impeachment, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said, “Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say ‘yes’ simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.”

He later walked back that statement during a conference call with Maine reporters. “You’re jumping way forward,” King said of the possibility of impeachment. “What we really need to do is get the facts of this situation.”

He added, “Before we start talking about obstruction of justice or impeachment, we need to get to the underlying facts.”

The number of Democrats starting to use the “I” word is growing.

After Comey was fired, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, “It may well produce impeachment proceedings.”

“We’re actually pretty close to considering impeachment,” said Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth.

“He has committed an impeachable act and must be charged,” said Rep. Al Green of Texas.

“We don’t have to be afraid to use the word impeachment,” Rep. Maxine Waters of California said Tuesday at a conference of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress in Washington. “We don’t have to think impeachment is out of our reach.”

As Frank James wrote for NPR in 2013, even though only two Presidents have been impeached since the Constitution when into effect in 1789, it has long been a political weapon that the opposition has threatened a sitting President with:

[S]o long as the U.S. has political parties, there will be people calling for the impeachment of the president of an opposing party. Or even threatening impeachment against presidents of their own party.

Only three of 44 presidents have had to endure actual impeachment proceedings. House charges against John Tyler were dropped; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted.

But name a modern non-impeached president and someone probably imagined him being impeached. A Republican congressman from Michigan wanted Franklin Roosevelt impeached, and he wasn’t alone.

Perhaps more fancifully, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem titled “Tentative Description of a Dinner Given To Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower.” Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, especially, all inspired more or less serious calls for their impeachment.

Many of those calls came from one lawmaker, the late Democratic Rep. Henry Gonzalez. The Texas congressman went after so many Republican presidents that journalist John Nichols, in his book The Genius of Impeachment, says he was jokingly referred to by his House colleagues as “Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Impeachment).”

None of Gonzalez’s targets, of course, were impeached.

Given this history, the only thing about the calls for Trump’s impeachment that are unique is that they are happening so early in Trump’s Presidency. Part of that is because the past three and a half months have been among the worst that any incoming President has seen in American history. With only a handful of exceptions, seemingly every week has brought bad news of one kind or another for the Administration, and the last three weeks have been uniquely bad. Trump’s job approval and personal favorability numbers have both suffered as a result, and even many Republicans are starting to grow frustrated with week after week of chaos and an Administration that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Under these circumstances, open speculation about impeachment and removal from office was perhaps inevitable.

While talk of impeachment is not surprising under the circumstances, it remains politically unlikely at this point. In order for that to happen, you’d need a majority of the House of Representatives to support it and two-thirds of the Senate to remove Trump from office. Even taking the recent revelations in the worst possible light, this seems unlikely at this point. For one thing, all we have with regard to any of the stories that have allegations that have come out so far is just that, allegations. Until we see actual evidence, it’s far too early to say that there is sufficient justification for a radical step such as impeachment. More importantly, though, the truth is that impeachment is, in the end, a political act and with Republicans controlling Congress it’s quite simply unlikely that there will be sufficient political support for impeachment on that side of the political aisle unless and until it’s clear that Trump has done something truly egregious and that he is harming both the nation and the Republican Party in the process. This is especially true as long as Trump’s job approval numbers among Republicans remain as high as they are.

Even if Democrats take control of the House and Senate in 2018, the odds of impeachment seem low. As the Clinton impeachment showed us, impeaching a President when it’s obvious that you won’t have the two-thirds majority needed to remove the President from office is nothing more than an exercise in futility that potentially could end up harming the party that controls Congress more than it harms the President and his party. While a Democratic majority in the House could easily impeach Trump, convicting him would require 67 votes in the Senate, which would require a significant number of Senate Republicans to break with the President. When President Nixon was facing impeachment for Watergate, it wasn’t until the final tapes that established his complicity in the cover-up of the initial break-in at DNC headquarters were released that Senators like Barry Goldwater were able to convince the President that he would be convicted and removed from office if it got to that. We’re far from that being likely given what we know about the allegations against Trump, and until we are proceeding with impeachment is a rather foolish notion. As the saying goes, if you’re going to move against the king, you better kill him. Donald Trump isn’t a King, of course, but the truth of that statement remains. A failed impeachment effort would be a waste of time and political capital that could end up backfiring on the party that initiates it. If it is do be done, it should be done under circumstances where the outcome is a virtual certainty. It may be the case someday that both grounds and support for impeaching and removing Trump from office will exist, but that day isn’t today and it’s premature to start talking about it.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Given that it’s probably impossible for Trump’s handlers to keep this news from him, it’s probably driving him nuts, and thus even more incapable of governing than he already is.

    I don’t think it’s out of the question that, if things get worse, his family may stage an intervention and force him to resign, if only to protect what’s left of the Trump brand. I’m not sure what combination of threats and cajolery would work, but those who know him best are probably well-skilled in the art of manipulating him.

    To save face, he could develop a sudden but unspecified health issue.

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    It’s better that he isn’t impeached. The specter of “he should be, but Republicans just don’t have the guts to do the right thing because they care more about being reelected than they do about the country” is – to put it mildly – quite useful for Democrats.

    It will be interesting to watch & see to what extent the GOP self-destructs over the next 4 years – simply because they’re terrified of the monster that they created, but can’t control.

  3. CSK says:

    Breaking news: Feinstein, Graham, Grassley, and Whitehouse have just asked to be provided with all Comey’s memos related to Trump and all audio recordings Trump may have made of his meetings with Comey, plus any paperwork dealing with same.

    The ante appears to have been upped.

  4. charon says:


    Disagree. The ill effects of the irreversible damage he is doing is too great, not offset by whatever electoral gains Democrats get from him staying in office.

    It may be soon, may be later, but he is definitely being taken out though.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    It will come down to the most narrow and self-interested Republican calculations. What will hurt them more, pissing off the mullet-haired racist morons who make up about a third of the total US vote? Or living through 4 years of Trump’s perpetual crisis machine?

    Do not expect any significant number of them to even consider what’s best for the country.

    Right now the generic Congressional polling leans heavily toward the Democrats, and is even bigger when you look at the enthusiasm gap. So what’s worse for the GOP? Pissing off the creeps, or losing the suburbs? That decision will be made pol by pol and poll by poll.

    The only certain way to get Republicans to turn on Trump is to change the ‘minds’ of the one-third. Good luck with that.

    As for Democrats the best likely outcome is Trump raging and bumbling and flailing and keeping Ryan and McConnell in a perpetual state of cringing panic. Unless of course Trump gets near the nuclear football.

    As a Democrat I am quite content with 4 more years of stooopid. The Mencken quote comes to mind: Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. And you have to admit, Trump’s clown act is entertaining.

    But, as an American I’m ambivalent.

  6. LaMont says:


    It’s better that he isn’t impeached. The specter of “he should be, but Republicans just don’t have the guts to do the right thing because they care more about being reelected than they do about the country” is – to put it mildly – quite useful for Democrats.

    Read more:

    Right on! I don’t think the point of all this “Impeach Now” rhetoric from the Democrats is to actually impeach Trump as soon as possible. I think they know that is almost impossible. I think the main point behind it is to drive the narrative so hard that it practically become a foregone conclusion in the minds of every rational voter. And when Republicans come short of actually doing something, or anything, they will suffer the consequences in the upcoming election. Until then, Trump will continue to be the most important ally in making the Democrats case! Besides, I don’t think Republicans are all that enthused about hurrying the complete fracture of the party with an impeachment anyway!

  7. Donna McDonald says:

    Is Trump and his peep going to meet up with Russia retire plan, it their or Putin and in a couple month we have real footballs high and college start up..

  8. Donna McDonald says:

    Is Trump and his peep going to meet up with Russia retire plan, it their or Putin and in a couple month we have real footballs high and college start up..

  9. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Well, ya can’t say we weren’t warned…

    This month, when MSNBC asked a similar question, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Trump had “given no indication that he understood the gravity of the responsibilities that go with being commander in chief.” But she stopped short of emphatically declaring that he was unqualified.

    She did not mince words on Thursday, saying, “I have concluded he is not qualified to be president of the United States.”


    So, if the bar has been set SO low for the ABC team (Anyone But Clinton) going into this, my guess is that all this will all just be forgotten when POTUS does something else remarkably stupid yet entertaining for the news cycle. And the focus shifts to that.

    It will die out with a wimper, as people go about trying to understand why salaries are low, and jobs are going away.

    Thank goodness that the GOP knows that it’s the Evil Unions, High Taxes, and Illegal Immigrants that are to blame… as well as those lazy Americans with pre-existing conditions that want to milk the system dry.

  10. al-Alameda says:


    It’s better that he isn’t impeached. The specter of “he should be, but Republicans just don’t have the guts to do the right thing because they care more about being reelected than they do about the country” is – to put it mildly – quite useful for Democrats.

    Mike Pence is a serious evangelical politician – a guy who would get it together and jam through the radical Right agenda. Trump, as appalling, immature, and slimy as he is, provides enough distraction which at least impedes and delays the Right’s agenda.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @Donna McDonald:
    Dear Russian agitprop: if you rely on Google translate you often end up with gibberish. We have lots of unemployed English majors who might be able to help.

  12. charon says:

    Impeachment Talk Grows, But It’s Not Going To Happen Anytime Soon

    Someone is living in an alternate reality. Either Martin Longman is, or Doug Mataconis is, they can not both be right.

    Trump is being Taken Apart

    Read more:

  13. CSK says:


    Yeah, but “appalling, immature, and slimy,” plus pig-ignorant, pathologically narcissistic, bad-tempered, impulsive, venal, dyslexic, churlish, bigoted, and misogynistic has access to the nuclear codes.

    It’s a concern.

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:


    You’re being too idealistic. As long as:

    1) they stand to get reelected, and;

    2) the people who are writing the checks to them aren’t harmed

    They’ll cheerfully stand by as Rome burns.

  15. MarkedMan says:


    Trump, as appalling, immature, and slimy as he is, provides enough distraction which at least impedes and delays the Right’s agenda

    I agree with your assessment but for one thing: There is nothing more important than getting Trump’s hands off the nuclear trigger. And lest anyone is reassuring themselves that the military wouldn’t be so foolish as to follow a Trump order to launch, you are living in a false reality. The system has been deliberately designed so that there is nothing that stands in the way of a presidential order to fire. For those interested in podcasts, here’s a recent analysis Radiolab did on exactly that. It includes Clinton’s Secretary of Defense William Perry making it very clear that if the president says go, the nukes go.

  16. charon says:


    You’re being too idealistic.

    Not idealistic, pragmatic.

    Check out what BooMan has to say, I put up a link up thread.

  17. charon says:


    You are being too cynical. Kind of understandable, given how politics is these days

  18. MarkedMan says:

    Several times since the election I’ve stated in this comments section that I don’t see how he can stay, but also cannot see how he can go. I think Doug is right in the thrust of what he says above. But for the first time I do see a potential opening. Right now Trump’s business dealings are getting dragged into the mess. It seems that seven years ago one of his projects indirectly got $850M from a Russian state bank. Sitting on the board of that bank and needing to sign off on any amount that large? One Vladimir Putin.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think such things are more likely to lead to his impeachment. But to a large extent Trump seems to see his business and brand as his essential self, while the Presidency is proving to be a miserable PITA. So there is at least a possibility of cutting a deal at the Federal level that if he resigns they will leave his businesses alone. A slim straw to be sure, but the first one that’s appeared in this murky swamp.

  19. CSK says:


    The only way you could stop any president from ordering the launch is by killing or disabling him or her.

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:


    No, I’m being realistic. You are making an excellent case for why Trump should be impeached, one with which I agree and one I’ve made myself on here more than once in the past.

    It’s immaterial. I’m telling what will actually have to happen before Republicans deign to move on it happening. Unless / until their reelection campaigns are in trouble, or the check writers start having a problem, they won’t move. Cold, hard truth.

  21. Stormy Dragon says:


    It’s better that he isn’t impeached. The specter of “he should be, but Republicans just don’t have the guts to do the right thing because they care more about being reelected than they do about the country” is – to put it mildly – quite useful for Democrats.

    So you’re okay with leaving a criminal in office and continuing to do damage to the country, as long as your party benefits from it politically.

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Here in the real world, that’s the way it works, Sunshine. Congressional Republicans will not move an inch towards impeachment unless / until their own political survival is threatened. Democrats do not have the power to initiate impeachment proceedings, regardless of whether they want to do so or don’t.

    So – Republicans will act in their own self interest; so will the Democrats. That’s just how it is.

    Am I thrilled with it? No, but unfortunately the real world isn’t some rom-com where everything works out in the end and life is one delightful, on-going bake sale. The real world is, unfortunately, not fair. The good guy doesn’t always get the girl.

    I operate in that world, both by necessity and by choice. So does everybody sitting in Congress. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.

  23. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The best to hope for, given the supine Banana-Republicans in Congress, is an independent commission or special prosecutor. Let’s have some adults find out where the Russia thing really leads.
    Look…frankly, this guy is too fwcking stupid to know what he did. I’m sure he got real quiet when they told him about obstruction of justice. The guy is used to having the system bend over and grab it’s ankles for him. He is too big an imbecile to figure out that he is in a new sandbox and the rules are going to be different.
    Also…who wants a President Pence? That guy makes Dumb Don look like an astro-physicist who moonlights as a neurosurgeon on the weekends.
    The longer that the fat orange blob is in the White House, the more motivated Democrats will be in ’18.

  24. Stormy Dragon says:


    Don’t give me the “this is the real world” crap. You didn’t say “He won’t be impeached”; you said “It’s better that he isn’t impeached”. That’s a statement of preference.

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I don’t share your “OMG, he’s going to destroy the country and we’ll all be living in huts amid the smoking ruins” hysteria.

    Is he going to f’k things up? Sure – that’s a given. Is he going to reduce the country to a smoking ruin? No …

    Here in the real world, we have four years and then he’s likely gone. At the end of those four years, either another Republican or a Democrat will be president. In a year and a half, we’ll be choosing a new Congress. In that reality, maneuvering for political advantage is how it works.

    You either play the game or you get run over.

    If you wish to rend your garments moaning about how unfair it all is for the next four years and waiting to get run over by the train, knock yourself out. I’m not fond of getting run over, and I don’t believe in playing fair. I play the game that exists and I play it to win. Just how it is.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    There is a poll number more important than Trump’s favorability:

  27. Hal_10000 says:

    What if we all chipped in to offer him a billion dollars to resign?

  28. JohnMcC says:


    I ‘reply-ed’ to Charon above to bring the link to BOOMAN down. Should be looked at before passing on to a contest between idealism and realism just like we talked about in freshman dorms.

    Short precis: There actually is a deep state in the intel community. Today it’s getting rid of Pres Trump like it has gotten rid of many democratically chosen leaders over the decades (with examples). Tomorrow it might be getting rid of someone we like.

  29. Moosebreath says:


    “What if we all chipped in to offer him a billion dollars to resign?

    Eric Levitz at New York Magazine is way ahead of you, with suggestions on what to offer Trump as a golden parachute. I especially liked:

    “Force Mike Pence to license Trump’s name.

    This would provide the ex-president with a revenue stream and allow the (Mike) Trump presidency to live on in his absence.”

  30. wr says:

    @Hal_10000: “What if we all chipped in to offer him a billion dollars to resign?”

    There’s no way to raise as much as he can grift as long as he holds the office.

  31. Terrye Cravens says:

    A special prosecutor has been named…Mueller…that makes the specter of impeachment a little more likely. Truth is he would more likely resign.

  32. CSK says:


    It would be cheaper–and considerably more amusing–to make fun of him to the point where Jared and Ivanka have to have him strapped to a gurney and wheeled gibbering and foaming at the mouth from the White House.

  33. charon says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    This from before Mueller appointment as special prosecuter:

    Trump’s Odds of Impeachment Just Spiked on the Betting Markets

  34. Terrye Cravens says:

    @charon: I heard about that. I think a lot of people have thought he should be impeached for some time. But I do think that now there is a better chance of some legal action being taken. He might even resign.

  35. Pch101 says:

    Impeachment would ultimately be a mistake because it puts Pence into power and provides the GOP with an excuse to claim that it has cleaned house. (If anything, Pence would even be worse, since he’ll have virtually all of the vile features of Trump but with less administrative incompetence to keep that vileness from being implemented.)

    The goal at this point should be to destroy the Republican Party in its present form so that it can rebuilt from the ground up as a credible center-right party. That lofty goal may not happen, of course, but that process starts by turning its president into Swiss cheese, not by giving him an escape route.

  36. gVOR08 says:

    @charon: Prescient. Booman and you both.

  37. Gustopher says:

    A lot of things that I would have thought wouldn’t happen soon have already happened in the Trump presidency, and we are only 118 or so days in. We’ve had the President go in tv and admit that he was obstructing justice, and then follow it up a few days letter with sharing classified information with the Russians.

    So “impeachment won’t happen soon” rings hollow to be. It might. In normal times, I would agree, but these are not normal times.

  38. Pch101 says:

    During Watergate, the president’s party controlled neither the House nor the Senate.

    Right now, the president’s party controls both.

    No comparison.

  39. Laurence Bachmann says:


    Who gives a damn if it’s good for the Democratic Party? A band of nitwits and shills who couldn’t seize an opportunity if it was handcuffed to them? The political and cultural norms of governance, civility and decency are being degraded daily by Trump and his gang of enablers and facilitators. They regularly degrade the institutions they purportedly serve. They are a threat to constitutional government. The sooner he goes the better; the more that go down with him the better.

  40. Pch101 says:

    @Laurence Bachmann:

    The entire GOP is the problem.

    Trump is just one head of the hydra. Cut that one off now, and you get Pence.

  41. JohnMcC says:

    @Laurence Bachmann: Please settle down, dear heart. This train has been coming down the track for years. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. If you are sufficiently exercised to sustain political activism for the next few years — which are almost certainly going to be some pretty depressing years, BTW — join the ‘Indivisible’ group around you and get busy.

    Please don’t burst on the scene with shouts and panic. We’ve been telling you and telling you.

  42. michael reynolds says:

    @Laurence Bachmann: @HarvardLaw92:

    I am uncharacteristically ambivalent. There’s a sadistic part of me that wants to make this as painful as possible. And there’s a parallel sense that this lesson won’t be learned without driving it home without a protracted and painful lesson.

    But at the same time I find Trump revolting, a sh!t stain on the history of the United States. His existence is humiliating to all Americans. It will take us decades to recover our national honor. He’s vile.

    But then President Pence? It’s basically party vs. patriotism. I suppose I’ll take immediate ejection versus Bataan death march. But it’s a close call.

  43. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: Here’s the big difference to me: Pence is at least mentally competent. He’s not going to blab TS/SCI material to prove his dick is as big as Putin’s, he’s not going to tweet endless streams of semi-literate glorp during his morning constitutionals on the golden throne, he’s not going to blunder us into some pointless war or goad the Norks into nuking Honolulu.

    In D-and-D terms, Trump is chaotic evil and Pence is lawful evil. And the latter is predictable, which makes it easier to counter.

  44. Jeremy says:

    Jeet Heer has a good piece on why not to freak out about President Pence: