Impeaching the US President: How does it work?

World Today

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks through a House corridor ahead of an impeachment proceeding announcement, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. (REUTERS/Tom Brenner)

Historic and dramatic-the impeachment inquiry pits Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives against the U.S. President. But what will it ultimately achieve?

CGTN’s Gerald Tan goes through the process.

The first thing that must be made clear is that impeachment does not mean the removal from office.

There’s actually a long process from when a U.S. president is impeached before he’s possibly forced from office. And, so far, Congress has never successfully removed a sitting president.

The term impeachment refers to the filing of charges.

To do that, the House of Representatives first begins an impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched this process Tuesday.

Already, six committees are investigating misconduct by U.S. President Donald Trump. If they find enough evidence, they will then put forth what are called “Articles of Impeachment.”

The House of Representatives then votes on these articles; all that’s needed is a simple majority. And in a Democrat-controlled House, an impeachment seems possible.

Next, it’s up to the Senate to hold a trial on whether to remove the President. But this vote requires two-thirds of the Senate, a tall order because Republicans are in control. It would take what many analysts consider a “bipartisan miracle” to vote Trump out of office.

Some history: only two U.S. presidents have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1998. But both were acquitted and completed their terms. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid the prospect of impeachment.

Of course, there are other issues at play. The Constitution allows for Congress to remove presidents if it’s deemed they committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Essentially, it boils down to an abuse of power.

But because there are no precise standards for what constitutes as a high crime or misdemeanor, it opens the door to a lengthy, laborious process.