Here are 5 things to know about impeaching a president
Here are some facts to know about how Congress approaches impeachment as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other members consider trying to impeach President Trump over his reported contacts with Ukraine about investigating former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
What is impeachment?
The U.S. Senate’s webpage on impeachment describes it this way:
“If a federal official commits a crime or otherwise acts improperly, the House of Representatives may impeach — formally charge — that official. If the official subsequently is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, he is removed from office.”
The Constitution says that “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” are reasons to remove a president, vice president and other “civil officers of the United States” from office.
What does the process look like?
When Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment, the Judiciary Committee in the House “first held an investigation and recommended articles of impeachment to the full House. In theory, however, the House of Representatives could instead set up a special panel to handle the proceedings — or just hold a floor vote on such articles without any committee,” according to the New York Times.
Only a simple majority of members in the House need to vote to approve articles of impeachment, according to the Congressional Research Service.
What happens after a president is impeached?
That’s where the Senate comes in.
According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ webpage on impeachment, the “Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to impeach an official, and it makes the Senate the sole court for impeachment trials.”
Democrats control the House, but Republicans — led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — control the Senate. That means that a partisan move to impeach Trump in the House could die in the Senate if there are no GOP supporters.
But a two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate to convict a president.
The Times reports that “there is no obvious enforcement mechanism if Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, were to simply refuse to convene one — just as he refused to permit a confirmation hearing and vote on Mr. Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016.”
What else does impeachment do? And who would become president?
“The power of impeachment is limited to removal from office but also provides for a removed officer to be disqualified from holding future office,” the House webpage says. “Fines and potential jail time for crimes committed while in office are left to civil courts.”
Reuters reports that “in the unlikely event the Senate convicted Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.”
Who has been impeached in the past?
Beyond proceedings against Presidents Clinton, Nixon and Andrew Johnson, past impeachment processes have been carried out against more than a dozen other federal officials, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“The House has impeached 19 individuals: 15 federal judges, one Senator, one Cabinet member, and two Presidents,” a 2015 CRS report on impeachment and removal says. “The Senate has conducted 16 full impeachment trials. Of these, eight individuals—all federal judges—were convicted by the Senate.”