Impeachment, but less confusing

We're gonna need a bigger gavel.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives for a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus about an impeachment inquiry of President Trump in the Capitol on Tuesday, September 24 2019. (Photo By Tom William/CQ Roll Call)

Tom Williams

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives for a meeting with the House Democratic Caucus about an impeachment inquiry of President Trump in the Capitol on Tuesday, September 24 2019. (Photo By Tom William/CQ Roll Call)

In light of Speaker Pelosi’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry against the president, here’s some background to help you sort through the tangle of laws, procedures, and misconceptions.

What exactly is impeachment? Does this mean the president will be kicked out of office?

No. Impeachment does not remove a president from office. To impeach is to charge a government official with a crime – either “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

Why did this start?

The source of the inquiry is a phone call made by President Trump to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden with the help of Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer. (Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company during the Obama administration; during this time, Biden supported the resignation of a Ukrainian prosecutor who allegedly failed to investigate corruption. This company was under investigation by the Ukrainian government at one point; however, there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son.) Prior to this phone call, Trump temporarily froze US aid to Ukraine, leading many to assume that he expected Zelensky to open an investigation in order to continue receiving aid. Read the full transcript here.

Has this happened before?

Yes. 16 judges and two presidents have been impeached – not including Nixon, who resigned before he was formally charged. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, but both were ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

What are the next steps?

1. Congressional committees (primarily the House Judiciary Committee) will gather evidence and interview witnesses.

2. The House will decide which charges, if any, should be recommended against the president. These charges are called articles of impeachment.

3. The entire House of Representatives will vote on whether or not to charge the president. A simple majority is needed for these articles to pass.

4. The president will stand trial in the Senate, overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

5. The Senate will hold a vote; a ⅔ majority is required to convict the president.

The Senate has never voted to convict, and it is highly unlikely to do so. Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can choose to “table” articles of impeachment, or decline to hold a vote.