US President Donald Trump on Wednesday became the first president in the country’s history to be impeached twice, as 10 of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurgency during the violent outburst last week at the Capitol. Ten Republicans broke ranks and voted to impeach Trump on a day when the debate moved at breakneck speed, largely charged by bipartisan anger at the scale of the January 6 violence.
In the process, Donald Trump’s place in history has been redefined. Always defiant, Trump will leave the White House as the only first president in American history to be impeached twice. While the word ‘impeachment’ is broadcast on most news channels and dominates trends on social media, what exactly does that mean?
What is impeachment in the US constitution?
The founders of the United States were concerned that presidents would abuse their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for the removal of a president. This process is called impeachment.
The US President, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “treason, corruption or other serious crimes and misdemeanors.”
“Serious felonies and misdemeanors” have historically encompassed corruption and abuse of public trust, as opposed to simple indictable offenses under criminal law.
Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, said: “An impenetrable offense is what the majority of the House of Representatives considers to be at any given point in history.”
No president has ever been removed from office following impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be impeached. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were indicted by the House but were not convicted by the Senate.
How does impeachment work?
The impeachment begins in the House, the lower house, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via the approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment”, by a simple majority of the members of the body.
If the House approves the articles of impeachment, then a trial is held in the Senate. Members of the Chamber act as prosecutors; senators as jurors; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States presides. A two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to convict and remove a president.
What happens if Trump is removed from office?
In the unlikely event that the Senate convicts Trump, Vice President Mike Pence will become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on January 20, 2021.