SOUTHERN INDIANA — For just the third time in the more than 200-year history of the United States, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President of the United States.
On Wednesday, a decision largely drawn along party lines ended with a vote in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump.
Trump joins Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — impeached in 1868 and 1998, respectively — as the only Commanders in Chief to have articles of impeachment against them formally adopted by the House since America's founding.
Two articles against Trump were approved in the vote — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Both stem from a July phone call he held with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, which prompted a whistleblower complaint accusing Trump of improperly leveraging the power of his office to pressure the Ukrainian leader to announce an investigation into former vice president and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
House Democrats then moved forward with an impeachment inquiry when the complaint surfaced in September. Mirroring the public debates leading up to this week's hearing, House Republicans largely decried the charges before voting against them.
“Tonight, I voted 'no' on the Democrats’ three-year long attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election of our President," Ninth District U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Indiana, said in a statement to the News and Tribune. "From the start this partisan process — the only impeachment along party lines in our history — has been about political showmanship, not Americans’ priorities. Now that Nancy Pelosi has had her vote, let’s get back to doing real work for the American people.”
Polls show that roughly half of Americans are in favor of impeaching and removing Trump from office. At the local level, views are similarly split.
In the 2016 election, Trump received nearly 59 percent of the vote in Clark County, besting HIllary Clinton by more than 20 points. Results were similar in Floyd County, with just under 58 percent of voters choosing Trump.
Clarksville Town Council member John Gilkey said that despite the partisan divide both locally and nationally, the right decision was made in approving the articles.
“I think it’s an action unbecoming of a President of the United States," Gilkey said of Trump's conduct. "It’s not the kind of thing that you would expect out of a person holding an office of that magnitude. It’s disappointing. I think it points to some inherent character traits on his part that are disappointing, to say the least.”
While Gilkey acknowledged Trump is not likely to be removed by the Senate, representatives acted accordingly with their responsibilities in the nation's system of checks and balances.
“I think the House is complying with their obligation — their oath of office to serve as a check and balance for the president," he said. "However unpleasant it is, I think they are moving forward in a meaningful manner to discharge that duty.”
The unlikelihood of the Senate voting to remove Trump, Gilkey said, is due in part to the increasing presence of political "tribalism."
Before any votes were cast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, publicly stated that he would coordinate directly with the White House during the impeachment trial, adding that he would not support the calling of witnesses. Such actions were troubling to Gilkey.
"I think that philosophy is so ingrained in politics today, and it’s so disappointing," Gilkey said. "Unfortunately, it tends to exist on both sides, but McConnell and Republicans have taken it to new heights by refusing to call people to testify.”
While many on the right have openly ruled out supporting the removal of Trump from office, others have been more reserved in their approach. During a conference call Tuesday in which the News and Tribune participated, U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said he would be "conscientious" and "objective" in his assessment of the charges.
When a reporter asked if that statement could be construed as him being "undecided" on the matter, Young — who held Hollingsworth's post prior to moving to the Senate — was vague in his response.
“I am officially on record saying exactly what I said to you — which is I’m going to be a conscientious United States Senator, do my job, review the factual record, apply it against what I regard as the appropriate standard of high crimes and misdemeanors," he said. "Each side will be making their case about what ought to and what ought not to constitute a high crime and misdemeanor, and then I’ll cast my vote.”
Young also said that he anticipates support for removal in the Senate to be correlated with party affiliation. Because of this possibility, some have noted that the implications of the impeachment are still murky.
In the 1980s, New Albany resident Scott Stewart directed the Southeast Indiana Regional Office for U.S. Senators Dan Quayle and Richard Lugar. A student of politics, Stewart first voted in the primary elections of 1972.
Just two years later, Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in the face of a potential impeachment. Though it was after his tenure with Quayle and Lugar, Stewart also paid a great deal of attention to the impeachment of Clinton.
While issues of character played a role in the controversies surrounding Nixon, Clinton and Trump, the political atmosphere is different now than years past.
“What is different today than 1974 and 1998 and 1999 is that our divisions are much greater now," Stewart said. "That is a reality for which everyone is guilty on both sides of the aisle. There’s nothing that I can think of that requires more fixing than that. On one side, you have the Republicans who are defending the president at all costs, then you have Democrats who are attacking the president at all costs... The loss of the middle is the title of the play that we’re watching play out right now."
Stewart said the lack of teeth behind the impeachment proceedings extends further than the fact that Trump will likely remain in office.
By the time Super Tuesday comes around in March 2020, he said the impeachment will seem like "ancient history." What came of the process is unlikely to have an effect on the election outcome, he noted, citing recent polls showing that voters' opinions have not shifted much.
What Stewart is more focused on is long-term outcomes. He hopes that in the aftermath, the current partisan divide existing in the United States will diminish. In order for that to happen, voters and government leaders alike must recognize the importance of working through disagreements toward compromise, rather than simply reverting to adversarial tactics.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen in 2020, but I see it happening in my lifetime," Stewart said. "Do I see the country readjusting to a more centrist government? I do. I believe that will happen, because it must happen. For the United States to continue to be what it must in the world, we will have to find the middle, or the country will be weaker and the world less safe."