The liberals sobbing into their pussy hats when Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States in January had one thing to cling on to – the hope that sooner or later he might do something so outrageous he could be impeached.
Trump, it seems, is living up to expectations. He has spent the fifth month of his presidency embroiled in a row with the intelligence agencies which culminated in him sacking the FBI chief James Comey for his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, an explanation which convinced precisely no one. Now, reports suggest Trump’s meddling went much further, and the Republicans are flustered. Could the liberals’ dream come true?
So, how exactly can you impeach a President? Here is our rough guide.
OK, what does impeachment actually mean?
Impeachment is the power to remove an elected official for misconduct. Here’s the relevant clause of the US Constitution:
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Impeachment is actually a legacy of British constitutional history, and dates back as far as 1376, but according to our own parliamentary website, in the UK “this procedure is considered obsolete”.
It’s up to the US Congress to decide whether to impeach and convict a President. Both houses are controlled by the Republicans, so impeaching Trump would mean turning against one who is – technically at least – one of their own. Since he’s already insulted the neighbouring country, supported discrimination against Muslim immigrants and mocked a disabled reporter, their impeachment threshold seems pretty high. But let’s imagine he surpasses himself. What next?
The impeachment process
Members of the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the Congress – can start the impeachment process. They in turn may be encouraged to do so by voters. For example, there is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to people who tried to impeach Barack Obama. One Impeach Obama supporter simply gave his reason as stopping the President from “pushing his agenda”. Another wanted to do so on the grounds of gross incompetence…
Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2014
But for an impeachment attempt to actually work, the impeacher needs to get the support of the house. If a majority agree with the idea of impeaching the elected official, they nominate members to act as prosecutors during the subsequent trial. This takes place in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. In most impeachments, the Senate acts as judge and jury, but when a President is impeached, the chief justice of the United States presides.
Two-thirds of the Senate must vote for impeachment in order to convict.
What are the chances of impeaching Donald Trump?
So if Trump does something that even he can’t tweet away, and enough angry voters email their representatives, Congress can begin the process of impeachment. But will that be enough to get him out?
It’s often assumed that Richard Nixon was kicked out because he was impeached for the cover up known as the Watergate Scandal. In fact, we’ll never know, because he resigned before the House could vote on the process.
Two decades later, the House got further with Bill Clinton. When it emerged Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern, he initially denied it. But after nearly 14 hours of debate, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives decided to impeach him on grounds including perjury and obstruction of justice.
In the Senate trial, Clinton’s defenders argued that his actions did not threaten the liberty of the people. The majority of Senators voted to acquit him.
The only other Presidential impeachment took place in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson, removed a rabble-rouser from his Cabinet. The guilty vote fell short of the two-thirds majority, and he was acquitted.
So, what’s the chances of impeaching Trump? I’ll leave you with some numbers…