Impeachment has been a buzzword in the past weeks' political coverage. Yet many don't fully understand the meaning of and implications of the term. Here are nineteen things you need to know.
19. What Exactly IS Impeachment??
Impeachment is the congressional ability to remove a president or other high ranking official from office. The reasoning behind this removal can be accepting and/or giving bribes, committing treason, and “other high crimes and misdemeanors “. The House votes to impeach, and if they vote yes, then its up to the Senate.
18. What The Heck is A “High Crime or Misdemeanor”?
The inclusion of the phrase “other high crimes or misdemeanors” is Congress's little loophole. It provides the legislative branch flexibility in their decisions for a reason to impeach. High crimes or misdemeanors can mean perjury, or it could be manslaughter. The Constitution does not define the term, allowing Congress to decide whether a president is impeachable at their discretion.
17. Where Does Impeachment Come From?
Like many things in the US political system, we can thank jolly old England for impeachment. There is a clause in British government that allows parliament to investigate royal advisors and other high ranking officials to see if they need to be removed. This is what the founders modeled American impeachment on.
16. Yet One Official is Immune….
Interestingly enough, Parliament is not allowed to impeach the monarch. Kings and queens have been traditionally considered to be hand selected by a divine entity, making them effectively above the law. This was Charles I's argument against the Puritan Roundheads led by Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s. He lost his head for his troubles.
15. So How Do You Get Impeached?
Technically, an impeachment begins when the House formally votes for the Judiciary Committee to authorize impeachment proceedings. However, this is not always the case. In several impeachments of judges, there was no formal vote. There also wasn't a vote in the case of Donald Trump's impeachment.
14. What Role Does the Media Play?
As with all aspects of culture, there is an important question as to the role news coverage plays in the impeachment process. After all, if impeachments have taken place without an official House of Representatives vote, doesn't it stand to reason that many of those impeachments were caused by outside pressures? While the media has no official role, their breaking of stories of presidential bad behavior (i.e. Watergate) could result in the beginning of an impeachment.
13. How Does the Impeachment Process Work?
Any member of the House of Representatives can request for a president to be impeached. If the majority of the house agrees and votes to impeach, the query is moved along to the Senate. If in a trial presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court a two-thirds majority votes to impeach, the president is removed from office.
12. So How Many Presidents Have Been Impeached?
Counting Trump, three. Overall, twenty federal officials have been impeached by Congress. Fifteen were federal judges (thirteen district court judges, one court of appeals justice, and one Supreme Court Associate justice). Unlike Britain, the US constitution allows for no exceptions in the impeachment process.
11. Nixon Was One of the Two Other Than Trump Impeached, Right?
Wrong. Following the Watergate scandal, then-president Richard Nixon saw the writing on the wall. Rather than allow Congress to impeach him, he decided to resign from office. He was later pardoned by Gerald Ford.
10. So Who Else Was Impeached?
The most famous impeachment to many living Americans was that of former President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Clinton was impeached on the grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice. He lied about an affair he had with a White House intern while on the stand. The other president to have been impeached was Andrew Johnson, whose impeachment had important implications for federal-legislative power balances.
9. Was A President Ever Actually Removed From Office through Impeachment?
Despite what many think, no. As noted above, Nixon wasn't actually impeached—he chose to resign before he could be.
Both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted by the senate and remained in office following their impeachments.
8. But Doesn't Being Impeached Mean You Committed A Crime?
Not necessarily. An impeachment is a political action, not a criminal one.
Congress does not have the authority to impose criminal charges on an official. That's up to the discretion of the criminal justice system.
7. Party Matters
Impeachment in the twentieth century has an interesting, partisan implication. Democrats have tried to impeach every Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower. Whether this was with just cause or not varied case by case, but none of their efforts actually got a president removed.
6. Obama Almost Got in on The Action
There were a few efforts on the part of Republicans to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama. The initial attack was based off the false rumor that Obama wasn't born in the US. In 2012, there was talk of impeachment due to a White House cover up relating to Benghazi.
Obama was also scrutinized by Republicans for a perceived failure to enforce immigration laws. Despite their efforts, no articles of impeachment were ever drawn up and nothing came of it.
5. Bush The Younger's Struggles
Democrats were marginally more successful in their attempts to impeach George W. Bush than Republicans were with Obama, in the sense that those cases actually at least made it to the hearing stage.
Still, nothing came of the matter. Grounds for impeaching Bush were based around the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. So What About Trump?
Trump's impeachment inquiry was born following a whistleblower leaking communications between him and the Ukraine. In it, Trump urged Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential hopeful and former vice president Joe Biden.
The House viewed this as treason and urging a foreign government's intervention in US politics, sparking the impeachment process.
3. What Happens If He is Removed?
The House of Representatives (which is largely Democratically controlled) have voted to impeach Trump.
This leaves his fate in the hands of the senate. If Trump is removed, his VP Mike Pence would become president until the next election cycle.
2. What Are the Chances?
The Senate is largely Republican. If they stick to party lines, it is unlikely Trump will be removed.
However, Trump is fairly unpopular among many members of his party, making there a slight potential that he could actually become the first president to be removed from office via impeachment.