Five Facts on Impeachment

On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time. The vote count was 232-197, with 222 Democrats and 10 Republicans voting in favor. Here are five facts on impeachment.

  1. Congress is the final arbiter of what constitutes an “impeachable” offense.

According to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While the Constitution allows Congress to decide what constitutes “high misdemeanors,” several framers believed that breaking public trust was an impeachable offence. For example, in Federalist 65 Alexander Hamilton wrote that causes for impeachment could include “misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

  1. The House of Representatives impeaches public officials and the Senate then convicts them.

Impeachment procedures begin when an article or articles of impeachment are brought to the House, usually in the form of a resolution. It is referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which is supposed to conduct an investigation. The House then takes a vote, with a simple majority needed to pass. Once the House impeaches the individual, they are put on trial in the Senate, presided by the chief justice of the United States. The Senate then takes a vote, with a two-thirds majority needed to convict. If found guilty, the individual is removed from office, and if the Senate chooses, it can take another vote with only a simple majority, to prohibit them from federal holding office in the future. If President Trump were convicted, he would still maintain the Secret Service detail given to all ex-presidents, but, according to legal scholars he would lose several other benefits such as a pension and travel allowances.

  1. Throughout American history only 20 people have been federally impeached, and only eight of those have been convicted.

The House has impeached three presidents — Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump – although none have been convicted by the Senate. While it began proceedings for President Richard Nixon, he resigned before he could be formally impeached. Most impeachments have been of federal judges; 15 have been impeached and eight have been convicted for offenses ranging from corruption, abuse of power, to perjury. Additionally, the House has impeached a U.S. senator and a cabinet secretary, but neither were found guilty by the Senate.

  1. Instead of federally impeaching and convicting a public official, Congress can also issue a censure.

Although a censure does not remove an individual from office, it is a formal reprimand issued by one or both chambers against a president, member of Congress, federal judge, or public official. It is introduced through a simple resolution and voted on. Like impeachments, presidential censures have been rare — the only president to have been formally censured is Andrew Jackson. On Tuesday, House Republicans introduced a censure resolution against President Trump for “attempting to unlawfully overturn the 2020 Presidential election and for violating his oath of office.”

  1. Presidential impeachment votes have always been partisan.

Last Wednesday's vote, with 10 Republicans voting to impeach, was the most members of a president’s own party to support impeachment in American history. During President Trump’s first impeachment (230-197) each Republican voted against and all but two Democrats voted in favor. President Clinton’s impeachment (228-206) had five Republicans and five Democrats crossing party lines. Even the first impeachment (126-47) in 1869 was highly partisan, with the entire Democratic party voting against, and all but two Republicans voting in favor. Impeaching federal judges, however, has often been a more bipartisan exercise. For example, in the last 40 years there have been five impeachments of federal judges, four of which were entirely unanimous and the last had only three votes against.


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