Impeachment for dummies


Celie Kreilkamp, Staff Writer

Last Tuesday, Sept. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump and his presidency. Impeachment is a misunderstood concept, and one that’s only happened to two presidents United States history. Here is a guide to the basics of what you need to know about this process.

What even is impeachment?

Impeachment is essentially the act of finding someone in public office guilty of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.” (For this instance we’ll say a president.) This could be something like abusing power for personal gain. The only two presidents who have been impeached are Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. However, they were ultimately found not guilty and weren’t ever removed from office, which brings us to our second point:

What is the process?

  1. First, an impeachment inquiry is announced by a member of the House (in this case it is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House). Currently there are six committees investigating the Trump Administration to gather evidence for this.
  2. The House of Representatives will vote for a majority on whether or not to impeach. If there isn’t a majority, he remains in office. If there is, Trump is technically IMPEACHED, but not removed from office. Currently the Democrats hold a majority in the House, but nobody knows if all of them will vote against Trump. 
  3. If the impeachment inquiry passes through the House, it moves to the Senate, where a trial for a two-thirds majority is held to fully convict and remove the president from office. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate. This is uncharted territory; the Senate must sort of make up their rules for the trial as it continues, which makes it very difficult for all parties involved. If there is a two-thirds majority, which hasn’t happened in the history of the United States, the president is impeached and the vice president (Mike Pence, in the current case) takes over. If not, like what happened with Nixon and Clinton, they remain in office though having been impeached.

Why is this happening now?

Among other things, Trump is being accused of abusing his power in a phone call made between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In it, Trump seems to pressure Zelenksy to start a corruption investigation into Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for the 2020 election that very possibly could be Trump’s rival. “I’d like you to do us a favor,” Trump proposed after being praised by the Ukrainian leader. 

What has really started this inquiry, however, is a complaint filed by an anonymous “whistle-blower.” This is someone in a government position who, in a seven-page letter to the intelligence community, claims that they have been told by various government officials that Trump’s requests to Ukraine were actively covered up by officials, that they pose a real threat to national security, and that Trump has been using his position for personal gain. The complaint has been looked into and was deemed credible. 

How long will this take? Will he still be in office if it ever finishes? 

Once impeachment inquiries have been announced, it usually takes a couple months  before the actual hearing in the House begins, though in the past it’s taken upwards of five months after the event that starts impeachment for hearings to work through. After that, the Senate must vote. Again, because this is a fairly rare process, there’s not a whole lot we can know. 

What next?

Nobody is quite sure how this will work. Because the Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, if it gets through the House, there’s a very good chance it will be dismissed and Trump would remain in office. Some people even think this whole ordeal could boost his chances of being reelected in 2020.

Impeachment has been on the minds of many people who haven’t supported Trump since his election, and after three years of a whirlwind presidency, it’s finally happening. No matter what happens, though, it will be a landmark moment in the history of the United States.