The Impeachment Process: How Does it Work?
When someone is elected to public office, they take an oath to the American public: They promise to uphold the Constitution and put the interests of Americans before their own. So when a public official (especially, you know, the highest-ranking one in the country) violates that trust, Americans need a way to both acknowledge that violation—and act on it.
What exactly is impeachment?
It’s the process the Constitution lays out for removing presidents from office before their terms are up.
What is an impeachable offense?
The Constitution defines impeachable offenses as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” but generally speaking they are actions a president takes to abuse his or her powers of office or violate public trust.
Has Trump committed an impeachable offense?
Yes, yes he has.
How are the crimes alleged in the Ukraine scandal different from the other crimes the president has committed?
Trump encouraged foreign interference in the 2016 election, has offered illegal quid pro quos, and obstructed justice before. The Ukraine scandal combines all of these crimes and adds to them:
- He extorted Ukraine using his official powers.
- The aid he withheld was mandated by an act of Congress.
- He abused classification procedures to conceal embarrassing, criminal behavior on a classified server.
Is there any truth to what Trump is saying about Biden and his son Hunter?
No. It’s pretty much exactly the opposite: when Biden was vice president, his effort to have Ukraine’s prosecutor removed were part of an international anti-corruption alliance, and it actually left the company that his son consulted for more vulnerable to investigations.
So what happens in an impeachment process, how does it work?
It’s analogous to the legal system: The House passes articles of impeachment, which are like an indictment that lists charges, by simple majority (218 votes), and the Senate conducts a trial like a regular trial, except the jurors are senators and only two-thirds of them need to vote guilty for the conviction to stick. If 67 members convict a president on even a single article of impeachment, he or she becomes an ex-president. Any less, and the president is acquitted and may continue carrying out his or her duties.
Where are we in the process?
The House has opened an “impeachment inquiry” to gather evidence of Trump’s impeachable offenses. If they compile enough evidence to charge him, the Judiciary Committee will draft Articles of Impeachment outlining the specific offenses and vote on them. It’s basically a Burn Book, but for crimes. If approved, the Burn Book goes to the House floor for a vote. A simple majority (that magic 218 number again) must vote to approve the Articles. If the Articles don’t pass, the impeachment inquiry is over.
If the House approves the Articles, the president is officially impeached, but may remain in office pending trial (that’s what happened in the Clinton impeachment). The Articles are then delivered to the Senate for a trial.
Once it gets to the Senate, what happens?
The Senate morphs into a courtroom with the Chief Justice of the United States (that’s John Roberts) presiding. In theory, the Constitution allows the Senate to ignore articles of impeachment altogether, but the Senate rules say that the trial is mandatory and must commence immediately. Senators, serving as jurors, hear evidence from both the House prosecution and the president’s defense team (which in Trump’s case will probably be Rudy Giuliani in handcuffs and a plastic skeleton in a Brooks Brothers suit), and then vote on the president’s guilt. It takes two-thirds of the Senate (67 members) to convict the president of impeachment. Any less, and the president is acquitted. If 67 Senators vote to convict, then the president has been removed from office.
If Trump is impeached, but this doesn’t remove him from office, why does impeachment matter? Will it show anything new? What’s the point?
The impeachment process derives its power from its ability to captivate the public. Like Trump’s twitter feed, but for his crimes. Any president with 34 loyal senators on his side can survive an impeachment, but the process both educates the public about his or her conduct, and forces everyone in Congress to vote up or down on whether that conduct is acceptable.
Do we know how long all of this will take?
Nope! The House will decide how long to spend on its inquiry, and the Senate will then decide how long its trial will last.
Are we worried about how this will affect Democrats in purple states or in districts Trump won?
This might have been worth worrying about if Trump hadn’t been caught trying to subvert the 2020 election…but since the crime Trump got caught committing was about hurting Democrats in the next election, seems kind of silly not to impeach him out of fear that it will hurt Democrats in the next election.
Should I be doing anything?
Call your senators to support a transparent and fair impeachment trial. Indivisible has resources available including a script and a call tool that does the hard part for you. You can also RSVP to attend a “Nobody Is Above the Law” event near you that will be held the night before the House floor vote to pass articles of impeachment to show your support.