Five Things to Know About Impeachment

Five Things to Know About Impeachment

05.07.19
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
05.07.19

Impeachment is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Whether they want President Donald Trump to stay in office or wanted him gone yesterday, people can’t stop talking about the I-word.

But no one’s explaining what impeachment actually is and how exactly it works.

Here are five facts you need to know:

Impeachment Proceedings

The House of Representatives initiates impeachment.

Generally, the 41-member House Judiciary Committee conducts an investigation to determine whether or not a federal official has committed a crime worthy of impeachment. If the answer to that question is yes, the committee will draft articles of impeachment outlining these charges and vote on whether to bring the articles in front of the entire House.

If at least 21 members vote in favor, the entire House then votes on whether to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. A simple majority vote in the House is needed to accomplish this.

Chances of Impeachment

Several 2020 Democratic candidates are calling on the House to initiate impeachment proceedings.

These include Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Julián Castro.

But that doesn’t mean these proceedings will necessarily occur.

The Mueller report leaves the question of obstruction of justice open to further investigation but says Trump did not collude with Russia. And a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 56 percent of Americans oppose impeachment.

In the House itself, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying she doesn’t support impeachment right now. But Attorney General William Barr is supposed to testify before Congress this week, and House Democrats are pursuing investigations that could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Impeachment Isn’t Removal

Impeachment happens in the House. Conviction and removal from office occur in the Senate.

If the House drafts and approves articles of impeachment against the president, a trial is set up in the Senate. Following the trial, the Senate votes on whether to convict the president of the offenses outlined in the articles of impeachment. This conviction removes the president from office.

But it takes a two-thirds majority — or 67 senators — to convict an official, and Republicans currently have a majority in the Senate. So even if House Democrats end up drafting and approving articles of impeachment against Trump, it’s unlikely the Senate would vote to remove him from office.

Clinton, Nixon, and Johnson

No president has ever been removed from office through an impeachment process, but some have come close.

President Bill Clinton was impeached on accusations of perjury — lying under oath — and obstruction of justice following a sexual harassment case brought forward by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. The Senate acquitted Clinton of the charges in February 1999, leaving him in power.

The House also successfully led impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson after he dismissed the secretary of war without the approval of the Senate. This, U.S. representatives said, violated the now-repealed Tenure of Office Act. The Senate acquitted Johnson in May 1868.

The House initiated impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in February 1974 during the Watergate scandal. But Nixon resigned in August of the same year before the process finished.

President Pence?

However unlikely, if Trump is impeached, convicted and removed, Vice President Mike Pence assumes his role.

The staunchly conservative former U.S. representative and governor of Indiana aligns with Trump on most policy issues.

One major exception is trade. Trump takes a protectionist stance on trade issues and favors high tariffs on foreign goods. Pence supports freer trade with lower tariffs.

Policy aside, Trump and Pence have starkly different demeanors. Trump is loud. Pence is reserved. And a Pence presidency would likely mark an end to our Twitter presidency.

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