Dilma Rousseff could be hours away from being forced out of office – at least temporarily.
After months of speculation, mudslinging and debate, the embattled Brazilian President’s fate is now in the hands of her country’s Senate, which is scheduled to vote on whether impeachment proceedings against her should begin.
Senators were on the floor Wednesday evening outlining their positions on the issue. The speech-making is expected to continue late into the evening, with a vote likely Thursday morning.
If a simple majority votes for the motion, Rousseff will be forced to leave the country’s presidential palace for 180 days and face an impeachment trial. That would put Rousseff on the sidelines when Brazil hosts the Olympics in August and leave her battling to save her political future and finish out her term.
It’s not looking good for the once-popular Brazilian leader, who now faces allegations that she broke budget laws.
According to Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, 50 of Brazil’s 81 senators have said they would vote in favor of impeachment proceedings.
Not going down without a fight
Despite the looming Senate vote, Rousseff said Tuesday she will not go down without a fight.
“I am going to fight with all my strength, using all the means at my disposal,” the embattled President said during a women’s conference in Brasilia. “I want to assure you that for me, the last day of my term is December 31, 2018.”
Rousseff’s supporters have also pledged to stand by the leader. They took to the streets in several Brazilian cities to protest what they labeled as a “coup.”
A group of protesters set tires on fire and blocked traffic in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.
Her opponents quickly took to social media Wednesday as they pushed for her ouster, tagging posts with the hashtag #TchauQueridaDay – using the Portuguese phrase for “Goodbye, dear.”
Brazilians in Rousseff’s camp fired back with a hashtag of their own, #TchauDemocracia, or “Goodbye, democracy.”
Senate leader: Process ‘long and traumatic’
At least one senator has vowed not to vote on impeachment proceedings: Senate President Renan Calheiros.
“I will not vote today,” Calheiros told reporters Wednesday morning.
Calheiros said he needs to remain neutral as the Senate president, but he expressed disapproval of the impeachment process, which he described as a “source of crisis.”
“I always rooted against this process reaching the Senate – this impeachment process that is so deeply rooted in our history, that is long and traumatic and does not produce immediate results,” he said.
How did we get here?
The bid to impeach Rousseff was launched late last year by then-speaker of the lower house Eduardo Cunha. Cunha accused the President of breaking budgetary laws by borrowing from state banks to cover a shortfall in the deficit and pay for social programs in the run-up to her 2014 re-election.
A special committee to investigate the claims was formed in the legislative chamber, which took its recommendations to the full session where an overwhelming majority voted in favor of opening impeachment proceedings.
This comes as many of her allies are facing corruption charges in a sweeping investigation into a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras. The investigation, known as Lava-Jato, has embroiled dozens of the country’s leading businessmen and politicians.
While she isn’t accused directly of profiting, Rousseff was the chairwoman of Petrobras during many of the years of the alleged corruption.
If impeachment vote passes, what next?
The expected vote is a key step in a process that was set in motion in April and could stretch on for months.
If the vote for an impeachment trial against Rousseff goes unimpeded through the Senate, she will have to step down for six months while she’s being investigated.
Vice President Michel Temer would temporarily take the reins until November, when the process would return to a special Senate committee.
At that point, Rousseff would have 20 days to present her defense. Following that, the committee would vote on a final determination and then present it for a vote in the full Senate.
If the motion is approved by a two-thirds majority, Rousseff would be officially removed from office.
Attempts to derail impeachment fail
Brazil’s attorney general and the interim speaker of its lower house both made last-ditch efforts this week to block the impeachment proceedings, but their efforts failed.
Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardoza accused Cunha, the lawmaker who championed Rousseff’s impeachment, of manipulating the impeachment process through misuse of power.
“He acted, shamelessly, to retaliate against the President, her government and her party. … It was a clear act of vengeance,” Cardozo said in an appeal he filed with Brazil’s Supreme Court late Tuesday.
But the Supreme Court rejected the attorney general’s appeal while senators met Wednesday.
What will be affected by impeachment?
In addition to the political crisis and corruption scandal, Brazil is facing a crippling recession, Zika outbreak and a rise in violence and unemployment.
This all comes as the country prepares to host the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games in August, the first to be held in South America.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Christian Amanpour, Rousseff said she will be “very sad” if she is sidelined during the Games.
“If that happens, I will be very sad … I would very much like to take part in the Olympic process, because I helped build the effort from day one,” Rousseff said.
Rousseff was first elected in 2010 as her popular predecessor and mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s, handpicked successor.
She was reelected in 2014 by a close margin and saw her popularity drop to the single digits.
Rousseff is the second Brazilian President to undergo impeachment proceedings. In 1992, former President Fernando Collor was accused of corruption. Although he resigned before the process was completed, he was prohibited from occupying political office for eight years.
CNN’s Shasta Darlington and Flora Charner reported from Brasilia. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta.