Impeaching a president is one of the ultimate forms of checks and balances within the United States government. Article two, section four of the U.S. Constitution states the president can be impeached on conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” This raises an important question: how are presidents impeached?
Impeachment can remove an unfit president from the highest office in the nation, with no chance for an appeal. The serious, multi-step process of impeachment involves specific roles for each party involved.
How are presidents impeached?
- The House of Representatives brings impeachment charges. This process begins when representatives introduce impeachment resolutions just like they would with regular bills.
- The Committee on the Judiciary decides whether to pursue the impeachment. A special committee investigates if impeachment charges are needed based on the president’s actions. If a majority of the committee finds grounds with the impeachment, it reports back to the House.
- The House then votes to impeach. The House technically impeaches the president if an impeachment article gets a majority vote. If that happens, the House then appoints a team to oversee the following trial on its behalf. These so-called managers are usually members of the Judiciary Committee.
- The House gets the Senate involved. After the House decides to impeach, it adopts a resolution to tell the Senate of its decision. The Senate then adopts an order saying it is ready to hear from the managers.
The managers will appear before the Senate bar to explain the impeachment articles against the president. The managers present back to the House afterward.
- The president is summoned. The constitution gives the Senate the sole power to try all impeachments. The Senate begins this by calling the president to appear in court on a chosen date to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the president or the president’s consul does not show up, the Senate assumes a not guilty plea. It then sets a trial date.
- The Senate holds trial. An impeachment trial is similar to a criminal trial. The House managers act as prosecutors, and the president has defense lawyers. Witnesses are subpoenaed to give testimony and answer questions, and evidence is presented.
- The senators take over the role of jurors, and the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial, sometimes ruling on procedural questions. If at least two-thirds of senators find the president guilty, he or she is formally convicted.
- The president is removed, and the vice president becomes president. When the Senate finds a president guilty, it can also vote on whether the president should be disqualified from holding office again. A majority vote decides this.
How are presidents impeached? The House of Representatives brings impeachment charges based on a president’s misconduct, and the Senate determines his or her fate.
Two presidents have been formally impeached, but neither of them were convicted or removed from office. President Andrew Johnson was impeached, but his conviction failed by one vote in the Senate. Bill Clinton was impeached, but the Senate found him not guilty. President Richard Nixon came close to being impeached. He had pending impeachment charges against him in the House, but he resigned before the process could start.
– Kristen Reesor