PUBLISHED OCT 21, 2019

Impeachment: The process and history

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The Story

President Trump is now the fourth president in US history to face an impeachment inquiry.

Back up. What are the grounds for impeachment?

The Constitution says presidents can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The definition on that last part is up for some debate, so Congress gets to play Merriam-Webster.

So how does impeachment work?

Historically, the House Judiciary Committee has investigated and recommended articles of impeachment. Then it goes to the whole House for a vote. If the majority of reps say ‘aye’ it goes to the Senate. The Senate holds a trial. House members are the prosecutors. Senators are the jury. The president’s lawyers can also be there. Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote for impeachment for the president to be removed. 

Where are we right now?

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for the House to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. She then instructed six House committees to investigate Trump “under that umbrella” of possible impeachable offenses. 

How likely is it that Trump is removed from office?

Right now, not super likely. Democrats themselves have been resisting impeachment for months over fears that impeachment proceedings could backfire politically. Now, it looks like the majority of House Dems support an impeachment inquiry, but it’s unclear if a majority would support a vote to actually impeach. Then there’s the fact that if it gets that far, the GOP is top dog in the Senate. And there are no signs so far that Republican lawmakers will ditch Trump. In order to remove Trump from office, every Senate Dem plus 20 Senate Republicans would have to vote in favor.

What’s the allegation against Trump?

That he betrayed his oath of office, national security, and election integrity.

Remind me what the oath says.

*pulls out pocket Constitution*: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

What’s the precedent here?

Two other presidents have been impeached. Andrew Johnson in 1868, related to firing his Secretary of War. And Bill Clinton in 1998, for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Both were acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 under the threat of impeachment related to Watergate – the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment but Nixon said ‘peace out’ before the full House could vote.

Wait, so what did Trump do?

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