Before this year, three presidents in U.S. history underwent impeachment inquiries, with two having impeachment trials in the Senate, neither resulting in a removal from office. While this is the third in 40 years, this is the first inquiry in most students’ memories.
However, during 1998 and 1999, the years many of today’s college students were born, President Bill Clinton was in office undergoing an impeachment inquiry.
Both Clinton’s impeachment and President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry have been divisive along party lines, but this is the first impeachment inquiry with a divided Congress.
An impeachment inquiry, according to the House of Representatives archive, is an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee into whether there is enough evidence against a federal official for an impeachment case.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi announced Sept. 24 the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry into a whistleblower report regarding a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House, the presidents discussed $400 million in military aid intended to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, which was approved by Congress but withheld by Trump.
Trump also asked Zelensky to investigate former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden regarding corruption in a Ukrainian company of which he was a board member at the time Joe Biden was vice president.
The whistleblower report about the call indicated there was a correlation between these two topics, suggesting Trump withheld the military aid money to pressure Zelensky into investigating the Biden family.
The House of Representatives’ inquiry aims to determine whether Trump used his powers as president to pressure Zelensky into investigating his political rival Joe Biden and his family.
With Clinton, the accusations that started the impeachment inquiry did not develop into articles of impeachment, rather his conduct during hearings was found to be unlawful.
Clinton’s impeachment case was formed out of an inquiry into a sexual harassment allegation, according to the Bill of Rights Institute. During hearings, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was called to testify about her then-alleged relationship with Clinton.
Although both Lewinsky and Clinton denied having a relationship, after being promised immunity in exchange for her testimony, Lewinsky admitted to the affair, and the House filed articles of impeachment against Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice because he lied about the affair under oath.
According to the Bill of Rights Institute, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Clinton in 1998 along party lines, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not vote to remove him from office.
A U.S. News & World Report published in December 1998 said some citizens felt Clinton’s impeachment process was more political than constitutional, and that “the House that voted to impeach President Clinton is more deeply divided than at any time since Reconstruction.”
In the Sept. 17, 1998, issue of the Northwest Missourian, the editorial staff asked for student and community member opinions on whether Clinton should be impeached. This divide was reflected in the responses, but a theme that emerged from that issue and articles from before and after the impeachment was the community wanting to stop hearing about it and for the process to be over.
“I think he should be impeached,” then-physics major Chad Brown said. “He should be punished for breaking a federal law.”
While most interviewed agreed what Clinton did was distasteful if not illegal, some were tired of hearing about it and just wanted it to be over.
“They ought to just leave him alone,” community member Eva Law said in 1999. “It’s between him and his wife.”
Retired Maryville resident Bud Russel said Clinton should resign.
“I think he has received punishment,” then-recreation major Adam Miller said. “He has been embarrassed and humiliated enough. Let him finish his term then we get someone else.”
The Missourian also interviewed senators from Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas in the Jan. 14, 1999, issue. The senators interviewed all hoped the trial process would be expedient.
“The nation’s agenda shouldn’t be sacrificed to a protracted, carnival-like atmosphere,” then Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) said. “The President and the country deserve a prompt resolution of the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.”
A similar feeling has spread throughout Northwest’s campus 21 years later. While politically engaged students have strong feelings about whether or not Trump should be impeached, many students want to stop hearing about it every day on the news.
Political science associate professor Kimberly Casey, who studies past presidents, said when she made her first attempt to talk with her students about Trump’s impeachment inquiry, they were closed off.
“My general sense is they are probably not interested because they find that overwhelming,” Casey said. “And that’s been the general path that politics have taken in the past several years. The students who are engaged are very interested in it … but when it comes to general education, there’s more trepidation about it.”
Sophomore Benjamin Hayen, a Republican, said Democrats have fallen into a political trap with the inquiry, and he said it will be a traumatic process for the country in a time when it is in need of stability.
Hayen said pursuing impeachment is pointless because the Senate will not vote to convict. He said if people want Trump out of office, an election is a little more than a year away.
“Most of the Republicans I am friends with are unified in their opposition to the inquiry,” Hayen said. “Most of the public seem to be supremely irritated by the fact that just as we got done with this Russia hoax, the Democrats are coming after him with secondhand whistleblower information to conjure up what I call a ‘nontroversy.’”
College Democrats Vice President Tyler Bears said although many of his friends support impeachment, he thinks impeachment will be bad for the country and backfire politically on Democrats.
“I think that impeachment is poisoned fruit,” Bears said. “A lot of moderates especially think that this is over-dramatic. ... I think that when people hear ‘impeachment,’ they think it’s just Democrats that can’t get over having lost.”
Bears said not much short of Trump being proven guilty of murder could sway him to support impeachment.
“I think that if you really want him out of there, you have to go vote,” Bears said.
College Democrats President Spencer Owens, however, does support the impeachment inquiry.
“I believe the President may have committed some treasonous acts that should be investigated,” Owens said. “However, I do not believe we should jump full-force into impeachment hearings so quickly. I need to hear all of the facts, because I am really concerned about opening up an impeachment hearing and then being proven faulty.”
Owens said he was surprised by how soon after Clinton’s impeachment another inquiry began, especially considering there were only two impeachments in the first 200 years of U.S. history.
“I think it says something potentially about our democracy and about the over-politicization and how extreme politics are getting,” Owens said. “I think it shows how the people are taking a greater stand for their own safety and to ensure their public officials are not corrupt and following the law.”
Although this is not the first impeachment inquiry in many people’s lifetimes, it is the first-ever with a divided congress. In 1868 when Andrew Johnson was impeached and in 1998 when Clinton was impeached, both houses were controlled by Republicans. In 1974 when Nixon was impeached by the House before resigning, Congress was controlled by Democrats.
If impeachment votes for Trump fall along party lines, there are enough Democrats in the House to approve articles of impeachment with a simple majority, but in the Republican-controlled Senate, 20 Republicans and all 45 Democrats would have to vote to convict in order to achieve the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office.