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Basic Process for Impeachment

With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Sept. 24, it’s important to know what all this means. What is impeachment? Article 2 (Executive Branch), Section 4 (Disqualification) of the United States Constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998) are the only Presidents to have been impeached (but acquitted to finish their respective terms) and a third, Richard Nixon (1974), resigned to avoid it. In all, eight public officials have been removed from office through impeachment. All were federal judges.

What’s the process? From a very basic perspective:

  • The House of Representatives conducts investigations against the President concerning impeachable offenses.
    • Pelosi said six congressional committees will continue investigations into Trump that they’ve already been conducting, but “under the umbrella of impeachment inquiry”. The six committees are: Oversight, Intelligence, Ways and Means, Judiciary, Foreign Services, Financial Services.
  • If investigations conclude that there’s sufficient evidence to move forward, the Judiciary Committee draws up articles of impeachment. The Judiciary and then the House will conduct votes (if there’s insufficient evidence, then the inquiry is over and the President remains in office).
  • If a majority of the House votes to impeach, the Senate holds a trial (if the House does not receive a majority votes to impeach, the process is over and the President remains in office).
    • A majority of the House is 218 votes.
    • The House is controlled by 235 Democrats.
    • As of Sept. 25, 205 have publicly declared support for impeachment (70 have announced support since Sept. 23) and one Independent, Justin Amash (a former Republican), has also supported impeachment.
  • The Senate will conduct a trial.
    • A group of lawmakers from the House will represent the Prosecution.
    • The President will be defended by his own lawyers.
    • The Senate serves as the jury.
    • The trial is overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
    • The Senate is controlled by Republicans, who have already vowed to quash impeachment articles.
  • If two thirds of the Senate find the President guilty, the President is immediately removed from office.
    • 67 Senators will need to convict.
    • The Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two Independents.

That’s it.

There are question marks.

  • What are the rules of the Senate?
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has applied the “Grim Reaper” strategy, effectively bury House legislation into gun regulation, election security, and nearly 200 other pieces of legislation. Can he refuse to hold a trial?

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