The word “impeachment” is whispered with a hopeful sigh in certain circles, but not all who hope actually understand the process needed to impeach a president. That’s understandable, since there are only four times in American history that serious discussions of presidential impeachment have been considered by Congress. And never—that’s NEVER—has an American President been forced to leave office due to impeachment. Ah, but Nixon you might be thinking. Ah, but Nixon resigned before he was impeached, and though Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, he was acquitted by the Senate and served out his second presidential term.
Steps to Impeach a President
Presidential impeachment does mean removal of office if–and that’s a big if—the Senate agrees to hold a trial, and two-thirds of the senators agree the President is guilty of whatever charges have been made. In today’s “party before country” climate, it’s difficult to believe enough Republican representatives would vote for impeachment of Trump no matter how heinous his crimes were. But technically, it’s possible. Here’s a simplified look at the step-by-step process required to impeach a president:
- The House Judiciary Committee decides impeachment proceedings may be warranted
- The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee proposes a resolution calling for a formal inquiry into impeachment
- If the inquiry finds grounds for impeachment, the Judiciary Committee composes one or more Articles of Impeachment and sends them to all the members of the House with their recommendation for impeachment
- House members debate, and eventually vote, on each Article of Impeachment. A simple majority vote in the House is enough to “approve” impeachment on one or more Articles
- Impeachment by the House is similar to being charged with a crime, but it does not qualify as conviction. If indicted by the House, a President will remain in office until the Senate holds an impeachment trial
- The Senate receives the Articles of Impeachment from the House and formulates Senate procedures for holding a trial
- A special group of House members are selected to serve as “prosecutors.” The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the presiding judge and all 100 Senators act as jury. The president is represented by his/her personal attorneys
- After all evidence has been heard, the Senate meets privately to debate a verdict
- The Senate casts their votes on the verdict in an open session. A two-thirds majority is required to result in conviction
- If the two-thirds majority is met, the Senate votes to remove the President from the White House
- In a separate vote, the Senate can prohibit the impeached President from holding any public office in the future. A simple majority is all that’s needed for this vote
Can the Resistance Impeach a President?
Whether or not Trump has committed an impeachable offense is yet to be confirmed. The breaking of a criminal law, treason, bribery, abuse of power and violation of public trust are the broad categories that qualify as the infamous “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” that can set the wheels of removal into motion. Whether or not a Republican-majority House and Senate would vote for impeachment, even if it were warranted, is also unconfirmed.
As investigations into the Russian hacking of our voting system and all the possible occurrences of collusion, treason and other violations of public trust that investigation may uncover continue, citizens who value Democracy over partisanship are called upon to RESIST. It’s tempting to roll over and say this or that group is corrupt and will never do the right thing. And you know what? They might not. But you still should. If the House begins impeachment proceedings of Trump, it will be more important than ever to pressure representatives into right action, to participate in the resistance movement. Democracy will require more marches, more letter campaigns and more phone calls to your elected officials and those who wield the power in Washington D.C. These are not the days of Richard Nixon when we could depend on fair and just men to do the right thing regardless of political party. These are the days of citizen activism.