On Tuesday, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the decision to move forward with the impeachment of the President Donald Trump.
"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," Pelosi said in a televised address. "Therefore, today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry."
Trump reacted to the announcement, colorfully describing it as “the most destructive Witch Hunt of all time,” and blasting Democrats for focusing on a partisan agenda to hurt Republicans and himself, instead of doing lawmaking.
Pelosi’s announcement is, however, a long way from removing Trump from office. Here’s a brief explanation of how the impeachment procedure works.
The right to impeach public officials is secured in the US Constitution, Article 1, Sections 2 and 3, and in Article II, Section 4. According to the US Constitution, the only body with the power to impeach is the House of Representatives.
Impeachment is a three-step procedure, beginning with a Congressional investigation, which most often begins in the House Judiciary Committee, but may be initiated by another body such as the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, Pelosi met with the heads of six congressional committees, and it is believed the meeting was held to decide who will conduct the preliminary investigation.
The House of Representative then holds a vote on impeachment, which must be secured with a simple majority. If the vote passes, the targeted official is considered “impeached,” but that does not yet result in their removal from office.
The impeached official then must be tried in the Senate. If a two-thirds majority of Senate votes are secured in favor of impeachment, the official will then be convicted and removed from office. The vice president presides in most impeachment trials, but in the case of an impeachment trial of the president, the vice president is considered a non-impartial party and the chief justice of the United States would then preside.
According to the US Constitution, elected officials can be impeached on the grounds of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The latter is not elaborated and historically has been a matter of debate. The US Congress outlined three main types of conduct that fall into this category, but the list is not considered exhaustive. Those are: exceeding or abusing the powers of the office; behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; and using the position for an improper purpose or for personal gain.
It is likely that House Dems will use the treason clause to impeach Trump, considering Pelosi’s claims of “betrayal of national security.”
Not every crime is considered grounds for impeachment. In 1974, the Judiciary Committee dropped accusations of tax fraud against US President Richard Nixon, saying it “related to the President’s private conduct, not to an abuse of his authority as President.”
Who Can Be Impeached?
The US Constitution says that the president, the vice president and “civil officers of the United States” are subject to impeachment procedure. The Constitution does not elaborate who qualifies as a “civil officer.” The most common targets of impeachment are federal judges.
Lawmakers are not considered “civil officers” and therefore cannot be impeached under the Constitution. In 1798, the House impeached Senator William Blount, but the Senate determined it had no power over its own members. Despite that, Blount was expelled from the Senate as a disciplinary measure.
Who Has Been Impeached?
Only 19 civil officers have been impeached and 8 removed from office throughout the history of the United States. Of those 19 impeached, 15 were federal judges and of those, 8 were removed from office.
Two US presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. However, both impeachments did not pass the Senate and both presidents remained in office. One particular case stands out, however, as Nixon had resigned before his impeachment procedure could begin. It is believed that his impeachment was most likely to end in conviction and removal from office. As such, Nixon is considered by many to be the US President who came closest to an actual conviction.