To remove a sitting president from office through the impeachment process is extremely difficult. It requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which in contemporary terms, would mean finding 20 Republicans to join 45 Democrats and both of the Senate’s independents, all of whom would have to link arms to remove Donald Trump from office. To put it mildly, it’s a tall order.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Long before the process reaches the upper chamber, there’s a straightforward question about the lower chamber: will there be enough votes in the House to impeach the president?
At first blush, the arithmetic may seem easy: there are 235 House Democrats and it takes 218 votes (a simple majority) to approve articles of impeachment. The odds of success look pretty good.
But in practice, it’s not quite that simple. There are plenty of House Dems representing center-right districts that Trump won in 2016, and those lawmakers would prefer to avoid this fight. There are other Democratic incumbents from competitive districts where impeachment is so unpopular, they fear putting their careers at risk by voting for it.
To assume that the 218 votes will be there when it counts is to underestimate the pressures on many of these lawmakers. Indeed, these same House Democrats have seen the same information we’ve all seen, and they haven’t yet expressed support for impeachment – which suggests they might never come around.
With this in mind, let’s consider the impeachment arithmetic in a little more detail.
The magic number is 218 – the minimum for a majority in the U.S. House. How many members have already endorsed impeachment? That depends on whom you ask.
NBC News’ tally says there are 211 House Democrats and one House independent who support “some type of action on impeachment.” This number suggests proponents only need six more members to reach 218. (As of 4:30 p.m. eastern, the NBC News’ number is up to 216 House Democrats.)
But there are other tallies. According to the New York Times’ tally, there are 204 House Dems and one House independent on board with impeachment. The Times also points to a list of 19 House Democrats who either oppose impeachment or oppose it right now, while 12 more haven’t said much at all on the issue. (As of 4:30 p.m. eastern, the Times’ number is up to 212 House Democrats.)
The Washington Post has a tally of its own, which says there are 199 House Dems and one House independent who’ve endorsed impeachment.
The problem isn’t that any of these lists are wrong, per se. The numbers vary because many of the lawmakers’ positions have been vague and open to some interpretation. For many Dems, it’s easy: they’ve said in no uncertain terms that they’re prepared to vote to impeach Donald Trump immediately. But for others, there are nuances: some support an impeachment inquiry, but they haven’t said how they’d vote on articles. Some have endorsed an impeachment investigation, but they’re waiting to see its resolution.
Whichever tally you’re using, there are not 218 votes in place. I suspect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t have launched the process yesterday if she didn’t think she could reach the threshold, and I know better than to bet against her, but it’ll be interesting to see if, when, and how the overall tally grows.