On Tuesday, September 24, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.) announced that the House would begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. However, that term gets thrown around very loosely, and most people do not understand the actual steps that have to take place from the formal announcement of the inquiry up until the Senate trial and vote for or against impeachment. Below I’ve laid out the steps with some commentary on the procedure:
According to the Constitution, the House can impeach a president — and other civil officers, such as federal judges — if lawmakers believe they have committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor is open to interpretation, but an abuse of power could fit the bill. Pelosi’s announcement means an investigation will look into whether actions by Trump rise to that level.
The House Judiciary Committee will lead the investigation, and Pelosi said the six key committees already investigating the president will continue “under the umbrella of an impeachment inquiry.” The Judiciary Committee is led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and includes 23 other Democrats and 17 Republicans.
Three previous presidents have reached this inquiry stage: Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Bill Clinton. The Nixon and Clinton impeachment processes included votes of the full House authorizing the Judiciary Committee to formally investigate. There are no plans for such a vote now.
If the committee decides by a majority vote that there are grounds for impeachment, it will draw up articles of impeachment and present them to the full House. Articles of impeachment are not criminal indictments but are similar in that they are charges against a person that could be pursued in a trial.
There can be more than one charge: Johnson faced 11, Nixon faced three and Clinton faced two.
The full House will debate the article(s) and vote on whether to impeach. Lawmakers may vote once on all charges or may vote on each charge separately. If a majority of House members present vote to impeach, the House sends the article(s) to the Senate for a trial.
Nixon resigned after an incriminating audiotape was released before the full House had a chance to vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will decide whether to hold a Senate trial. The Constitution says the Senate has “the sole power to try” but does not require that a trial occur. McConnell could hold a vote to dismiss the articles.
If there is a trial in the Senate, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would preside. First, the president would be summoned to appear and address the charges — basically, enter a plea. If he does not appear, the Senate would operate as if the plea is not guilty.
During the trial, House “managers” — House lawmakers who are designated to argue the case for impeachment — outline the charges, and the president’s attorneys defend him. Both sides may call and cross-examine witnesses.
Johnson and Clinton were tried in the Senate. Then-Rep. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was a manager during Clinton’s trial.
After the trial is finished, the Senate deliberates behind closed doors. However, voting is done in an open session. The bar is high for conviction: a two-thirds majority of the senators present.
If convicted of any charge, the president is removed from office and cannot pardon himself to avoid losing his position, according to the Constitution. The vice president becomes president.
Clinton was handily acquitted, but only one “nay” vote on each of three charges kept Johnson from being removed from office.
Via Washington Post