How Impeachment Works

This week has been a surprising week for the American political landscape. President Donald Trump is formally under an impeachment inquiry for accusations of abuse of power and foreign interference in our elections. While the media focuses on the identity of the whistleblower and debates the merits of uncovering that information, it’s important to take a step back. 

How does the impeachment process work? 

Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives are the only ones that can vote impeach a president. Although it’s up to them to decide when to impeach and why to impeach, the Speaker of the House must formally announce an impeachment inquiry. The speaker, in this case Nancy Pelosi, is the representative of the Congress, and her announcement means Congress believes the president is not fit to serve.  

The constitution allows the impeachment of a president for high crimes and misdemeanors, although its flexible framework allows for leeway in the meaning of high crimes. In other words, it’s up to the House to build a case for impeachment. 

If there is enough evidence, then they will draw up articles of impeachment. However, that’s different from an impeachment inquiry. Lawmakers vote for an impeachment inquiry, which means they are ready to investigate the president’s troublesome history, which in this case, would be the president’s phone call to Ukraine’s leader for a quid-pro-quo. 

After they investigate, they will vote for impeachment and write up articles of impeachment. That’s when impeachment will be well underway. 

What after that? 

Well, impeachment doesn’t mean the president will be convicted of any crimes or removed from office. For example, President Bill Clinton was technically impeached in 1998, after he lied under oath about an affair he had with a White House intern.  

However, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted of any wrongdoing by the Senate trial that followed the House’s official impeachment. He finished out his term. 

This inquiry can go in a similar pattern with the next election “right around the corner” that moves the impeachment questions into a whole other realm. 

Will the impeachment inquiry make a good case to impeach a president that is up for reelection very soon? And the most obvious one, can an impeached president run for reelection? 

All of that is up in the air for now.