“The House of Representatives ... shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 5
“The President ... 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
The president of the United States faces an impeachment inquiry by the U.S. House of Representatives for only the fourth time in history.
President Richard Nixon resigned when confronted with impeachment and likely removal. President Andrew Johnson during Reconstruction and President Bill Clinton in 1998-99 both faced impeachment; in both cases the Senate declined to remove the president.
The process is so rare it deserves explanation.
• Neither the Constitution nor House rules require a vote to conduct an impeachment probe, but one was held in the two previous probes.
• The inquiry only determines if impeachment is warranted. Articles of impeachment, if any, would be put to a vote of the House as a whole.
• Impeachment proceedings are not a trial. They are an investigation. The trial comes in the Senate if articles of impeachment are brought.
• The House alone determines what offenses are impeachable. The framers wrote this after vigorous debate. The “high crimes and misdemeanors” are to be determined by the governmental body closest to the people. Alexander Hamilton described such offenses as “the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
• The House will conduct a vote on any articles of impeachment and a simple majority will send an impeachment resolution to the Senate.
• Impeachment doesn’t remove the president from office. Articles of impeachment, if passed by the House, proceed to trial in the Senate, where the House acts as prosecutor through its elected slate of “managers.”
• The chief justice of the United States serves as judge after presidential impeachment, and the senators are sworn in as a sort of jury. It would take a two-thirds majority to convict and remove the president from office, and a separate vote to block him from holding office in the future.
• The president will not be sent to jail if removed, though he may be liable to criminal prosecution after removal.
• The vice president would be in line for the office after removal of the president.
The president’s conduct is of concern. Determining the seriousness of and consequences of that conduct is in the hands of those we have elected to serve our nation.
We urge them to solemnly and carefully perform their duty.