What is Impeachment?

Roy Zhu, News Editor

What is impeachment? Unfortunately, there is no pithy Schoolhouse Rock” answer to this question, and most Americans, despite having strong feelings about the matter, don’t actually know exactly what the impeachment process entails. For instance, contrary to what you may assume, President Nixon was not impeached for Watergate, though President Clinton was impeached for his scandalous affair(s). Impeachment, as a whole, in fact, has never proceeded to its fullest and most concise ideal – the simple act of evicting a sitting President from office. Looking back in White House history, we find only four examples of impeachment processes, starting with Andrew Johnson and finishing, most recently, with President Trump. Johnson’s impeachment was and will probably remain our nation’s most dramatic; he was saved from outright ousting by a single Senate vote. Fast forward to 2019, and we find ourselves again embroiled in a political maelstrom of scandal, outrage, and accusations. So how did we get here? And how will this process unfold?

Now, what is the process itself: impeachment does not depend on a single vote, and it does not require a violation of the law. So what is its definition? According to the Constitution, the President can be impeached for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”. So it must be a criminal action, yes? No. A high crime and/or misdemeanor is a loose term for any abuse of power by those who serving in representative capacity, an unsatisfying definition reinforced by historical precedent that basically amounts to a political, not a legal, action. As for how this plays out in Congress, the Constitution is much clearer: a funneling, tiered process that starts with an investigation and ends, if it makes it that far, in the Senate. The investigation is usually (impeachments tend to lack precedent, for obvious reasons) overseen by the House Judiciary Committee, which can delegate investigative tasks to other House Committees, like those for Foreign Affairs or Intelligence. This is the phase in which subpoenas are served and documents are frantically composed. Eventually, the Judiciary Committee determines whether the collective findings of all the investigations is enough evidence of wrongdoing; if it isn’t, the impeachment dies there. The Committee then finalizes the articles of impeachment” (again, not necessarily specific laws that have been broken, though they can be) – a set of impeachable offenses neatly categorized. From there, the findings are sent to the House of Representatives, where a vote is held on each article, passing or failing by a simple 50% majority. If at least one article passes, the President is formally impeached—but not yet removed from office. The article moves to the Senate, which holds a trial overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After the trial, the Senate holds a vote, one that requires a supermajority—two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators—to pass. If all of that passes, the President is finally and formally convicted and removed. There is no appeal, though the former President can theoretically still run for the same office. Hopefully you will have a greater understanding for just what exactly is occurring in modern American politics right now after learning about this long, intensive process.