• Hannah Ferguson

What the F is: an impeachment

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

If, like everyone outside the United States (and most in it), you have zero understanding of the impeachment process and are seeking a breakdown of both the investigation and trial procedures, look no further. This week, we are focussing on, What the F is an impeachment?

The United States Constitution allows Congress to remove a president before their term concludes if a two-thirds majority of Senators deem that the civil officer in question has committed treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours, (note: high crimes and misdemeanours are not defined within the Constitution).

'Impeachment' does not directly refer to the removal of a president. Impeachment is a political charge that can be faced by the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States. Essentially, it refers to the House of Representatives charging a civil officer with a political crime. For a more applicable example, think of the House of Reps acting as the prosecution in a criminal case, who brings a charge of assault against an individual before the court. This does not mean they have been found guilty, but they have been charged with the specific crime and are awaiting a verdict.

Two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were both acquitted and completed their terms. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid being impeached following the Watergate Scandal.

The House of Representatives formally accuses the person being impeached of a specific 'high crime or misdemeanour' as the Constitution states. In this case, Donald Trump is being impeached on grounds of 'incitement of insurrection'.

The next step in the process falls on the Senate, who holds the responsibility of convicting the impeached individual. Once the House of Representatives charges the individual in question with a high crime or misdemeanour, the Senate will vote to convict this person or acquit them.

Let's start with the basics.

There are two distinct processes at play. Foremost, the process leading up to impeachment (let's call this: the investigation) and secondly, the process of convicting or acquitting the impeached party (let's call this: the trial). Here are two diagrams explaining the basic outline of each:

The investigation process is completed, as Trump has been officially impeached by the House of Representatives. The cornerstone of the current events is the vote in the Senate, and whether they can acquire a two-thirds majority and convict Donald Trump.

The complex question in this impeachment is obvious: with four days left of Trump's presidential term, when will the Senate vote?

Here is Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's statement:

As highlighted in McConnell's statement, Johnson's trial took 83 days, Clinton's extended 37 days and Trump's first impeachment lasted 21. Thus, it is unlikely to occur prior to the inauguration of Joseph Biden. The timeline will likely be determined by the timing of Nancy Pelosi's delivery of the impeachment article to the Senate.

The coming weeks will be undoubtedly dramatic, and with days until a major change of administration, it is incredibly difficult to foresee the outcome of the vote in the Senate.

To stay up to date and listen to expert perspective on matters of US politics, The New York Times podcast, 'The Daily' is our recommendation.