There has been talk of impeaching President Trump practically from the day he took office in 2017, originally over alleged electoral irregularities. But on 24 September, impeachment proceedings were actually launched in the House of Representatives, although they have little chance of being approved by Congress. What exactly is impeachment?
"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.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4
It’s generally assumed that being impeached would mean the President was removed from office. Yet the two Presidents who were impeached stayed on.
People often think President Nixon was impeached. In fact, he resigned in 1974 before impeachment proceedings could begin.
For a President to be removed from office, he or she would have to be not just impeached but also convicted by the Senate. In the cases against Andrew Jackson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 the two-thirds majority required wasn’t reached.
Impeachment is also used against other high-level federal officials such as judges, and they are commonly convicted.
Impeachment requires the agreement of both Houses of Congress. With a Democratic majority in the lower house, the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump have a good chance of being approved. But it is unlikely it would be passed by the Senate with the requisite two-thirds majority as the upper house is controlled by the Republicans.
Whether or not it passes, the impeachment process is likely to be a prominent feature in the campaign for the 2020 presidential and senate elections. Several of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are senators, and the impeachment hearings may disturb their campaigns.
Several Republican Senators up for re-election may watch how the wind is blowing to see whether supporting the President or the impeachment is likely to have a positive or negative effect on their campaign.
And of course there is the effect on Donald Trump's electorate in his campaign for a second term. Will impeachment turn voters away or simply confirm a belief that the "Washington establishment" is seeking revenge on the outsider President?