The United States government is entering turbulent political times. The House of Representatives has begun a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump. This is only the fourth time it has happened in our history. No matter how it turns out, the impeachment process is disruptive to the normal business of Washington.
But certain aspects of housing are impacted greater than others. As a former housing researcher during the Clinton Administration, my own personal account can help clear up questions some may have on whether federal housing programs will suffer from the distraction of impeachment.
HUD’s day-to-day operations
At the program level, impeachment should have no impact on affordable housing programs. Career civil servants are responsible for the day-to-day operation of federal housing programs. Payments will still be made on rental assistance contracts, building inspections will still get done, and funding applications will still get reviewed.
During the Clinton years, I worked for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. My organization received federal funding and much of my work was paid for through a contract with HUD. During President Clinton’s impeachment, I did not see any effects in our dealings with HUD staff. The only effect I personally experienced was that I had to avoid “Monica Beach” when I biked home from work. This was what locals called the spot in front of the federal courthouse where media trucks would park to cover the Monica Lewinsky story.
Many of the management and executive positions at federal agencies are filled by people the president appoints. A large number of these appointments must also be confirmed by the Senate. These political appointees play a role in developing new policies, and they also help implement the president’s priorities.
Some appointed staff could have their attention diverted to impeachment matters, which may slow up putting new policies in place. In the case of the Trump administration, there are a lot of vacancies that have not yet been filled. If members of Congress are focused on impeachment proceedings, this could slow approval of new appointments. Ultimately, though, this should not have a direct impact on low-income renters and their federal housing subsidies.
The impeachment process is most likely to affect affordable housing programs if it interferes with appropriations. Congress is trying to finish up appropriations for FY 2020, which begins on October 1. The House has already passed a temporary funding measure called a continuing resolution (CR). It will keep the government funded through November 21, giving congressional leaders more time to pass their spending bills. The Senate will likely also approve the continuing resolution. It had passed with bipartisan support in the House, and the Senate still has too many spending bills to finish up before September 30.
Impeachment inquiry summary
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the start of the impeachment inquiry this week. Her announcement was triggered by a whistleblower report that alleged the president had used public resources to press a foreign leader for dirt on a political opponent and meddle in our elections. The White House also provided Congress with a rough transcript of the call. It showed Trump asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The former vice president had joined other world leaders in pushing Ukraine to remove a prosecutor who had failed to address corruption. One of the prosecutor’s investigations involved a gas company called Burisma, and Hunter Biden had sat on the company’s board. Investigators in the U.S. and Ukraine found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Biden.
The whistleblower also alleged that Trump had frozen military aid to Ukraine shortly before making the July 25 call. Congress had approved almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine on a bipartisan basis. The aid was to help Ukraine in its struggles with Russia. Russia had illegally annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014 and is supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine. The president put a hold on the aid without explanation, although it was released to Ukraine shortly after the call between the two leaders.
Most importantly, the whistleblower charged that White House officials tried to cover up the call. The call log was stored in a highly secure storage system, normally only used for very sensitive national security secrets, such as covert operations. This would make it harder for the call log to be discovered. According to White House staff quoted in the whistleblower’s report, nothing in the call log was considered a matter of national security.
The impeachment process begins with an inquiry in the House of Representatives. Once the inquiry is done gathering all the facts, specific articles of impeachment are considered by the full House. If a majority of the House votes to impeach, the matter then goes to trial in the Senate. If the Senate votes to convict, the president is removed from office. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict. Twenty Republican senators would have to side with Democrats, which is not very likely.
Clearly, the impeachment process takes a lot of time. President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings took over four months. House Democrats are looking to have articles of impeachment ready by the end of the year.
Senate leaders on the appropriations committee have said that they are focused on negotiating the remaining spending bills. However, they also observe that when impeachment proceedings heat up, it will be hard to stay focused and complete all the FY 2020 appropriations. If impeachment does distract Congress from finishing work on the spending bills, we are likely to see a string of temporary funding measures into the new year. However, Senate appropriators are pushing to get spending bills that already have bipartisan committee approval passed by the full Senate. These bills include the funding for HUD and USDA affordable housing programs. This means that HUD and USDA programs are less likely to be affected if there is a government shutdown. This is good news for low-income renters.