Considering the recent news of the House launching an official impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, it seemed worthwhile to create an infographic that describes the impeachment process.
Many Americans falsely assume that the term “impeachment” means automatic removal from office. That isn’t the case. The term “impeachment” simply means that someone in a high-ranking federal position has been found to have committed a crime or act of treason or bribery that seems serious enough to send that person through trial. If impeachment occurs, only then will the Senate conduct a trial and vote on conviction and removal from office.
Still, being impeached is serious business. Only two presidents have ever actually been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Both presidents were officially impeached, but, after trial with the Senate, neither received enough votes to actually be convicted and removed from office. Both finished their terms.
(Richard Nixon, in 1974, had articles of impeachment written against him and a vote of impeachment was pending. However, he resigned from office before the vote, so he was never actually impeached, though many believe he would have been should the vote have occurred.)
Here is a quick review of how the process works:
Download free 8-1/2 x 11 PDF of this infographic.
So, What Is “Impeachment” and Is It Likely President Trump Will Be Impeached?
As you can see in the graphic, “impeachment” simply means officially charging someone in public office of misconduct or legal wrongdoing. The term and process can be used for many different federal officials, not just the President of the United States. Impeachment does not mean that the person is necessarily guilty. But it does mean that they have been officially accused of some wrongdoing and that the House of Representatives feels there is enough evidence to at least do an investigation.
In the case of President Trump, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi submitted an official article of impeachment inquiry, which was spurred by an accusation that President Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to conduct an investigation of former vice president and political foe Joe Biden (who is currently running for president himself).
You can read about it all in a New York Times report, or just Google “Trump Impeachment Inquiry” and read all about it.
The big question is, how likely is impeachment and does it matter?
If the House Judiciary Committee (Step 3 on the infographic above) determines that there is enough evidence to at least hold a vote as to whether or not Mr. Trump committed something egregious enough to be removed from office, then all 435 members of the House of Representatives will vote. Only half (well, 51%, or a simple majority) will be required to officially impeach the president.
Is that likely?
At this point, it’s hard to say if the accusations will move past the House Judiciary Committee. They have access to confidential records and conversations between the president and others and only they will be able to determine if there is enough evidence to hold a vote.
If the Judiciary Committee does, in fact, decide to hold a vote, there is actually a high probability that the House will get more than the 218 required votes. Why? Because there are currently 235 democrats in the House and only 198 republicans. Getting only 218 votes in favor of impeachment doesn’t seem that unrealistic.
What Happens If President Trump Is, in Fact, Impeached?
It’s really hard to say what the final outcome will be if President Trump is impeached. It has only ever happened twice in the history of the American presidency: in 1868 with Andrew Johnson and in 1998 with Bill Clinton. In both cases, though, the final vote of conviction through the Senate ended up not receiving enough votes for conviction and removal from office. In 1974, President Richard Nixon was headed for a vote to be impeached, but he resigned from office before the vote ever took place.
While much will be determined about President Trump’s face once an investigation happens, it actually seems unlikely that, even if impeached, President Trump would be removed from office. With 53 republican senators and 47 democrats—and with the requirement to receive a 2/3 vote (see graphic above) from the Senate—democrats would actually have to convince at least 20 republicans to vote for President Trump’s removal. At this point, that seems unlikely.
If, however, an investigation reveals serious wrongdoings that even republicans cannot feel comfortable enough with to leave him in office, then there would be the possibility. But it’s never happened before.