Impeachment: What To Know

What To Know As We Head Toward A Senate Trial

  • On January 15, the House delivered a pair of impeachment articles to the Senate, formally setting the stage for the trial to begin on January 21.
    • The House named seven impeachment managers who will present (“prosecute“) the case for impeachment in the Senate, who act as a “jury.”
    • Although Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will act as the “presiding officer” but his role is fairly limited because the Senate can overrule his decisions by a majority vote.
    • Ultimately, the GOP-controlled Senate will decide the procedures governing the trial and its ultimate outcome — whether or not to remove the President.
  • The Senate impeachment trial will look like a criminal trial, but it isn’t. For example, there’s no burden of proof, rules of evidence, or unanimous verdict needed to convict.
  • Number To Know: 51. The Senate is made up 47 Democrats (including 2 Independents who vote with Democrats) and 53 Republicans. 51 votes are needed to pass (or defeat) any motion (ex: a motion to dismiss the impeachment articles or a motion to subpoena witnesses / documents)

The House Impeachment Votes

  • On December 18, the full House voted to impeach Pres. Trump
    • Article I (Abuse of Power) passed by a vote of 230-197-1
      • 229 Democrats and 1 Independent voted in favor
      • 195 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted in opposition
      • 1 Democrat [2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)] voted present
    • Article II (Obstruction of Congress) passed by a vote of 229-198-1 
      • 228 Democrats and 1 Independent voted in favor
      • 195 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted in opposition
      • 1 Democrat [2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)] voted present
    • Democrats acknowledge that regardless of the outcome, it’s nearly impossible that Pres. Trump will be removed from office by the Senate, but argue it’s necessary to pursue impeachment because of a constitutional obligation to protect our democracy.
  • On December 13, the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against Pres. Trump in a party-line vote
    1. Abuse of Power: Accusing the President of trying to recruit a foreign power (Ukraine) to investigate political opponent (Joe Biden) and by using foreign aid as leverage.
    2. Obstruction of Congress: Accusing the President of illegally preventing witnesses, testimony, and documents from being released during the impeachment investigation.


Takeaways From the Historic Public House Judiciary  & Intelligence Cmte. Hearings

  • Four esteemed constitutional law professors and scholars testified about their interpretations of whether or not the President should be impeached based on the evidence presented so far.
  • Other witnesses, including those “friendly” to the administration, testified they believed the White House’s policy towards Ukraine included a “quid pro quo” (“something for something”).Democrats allege Pres. Trump abused the power of his office by trying to recruit a foreign power (Ukraine) to investigate political opponent (Joe Biden) and by using foreign aid as leverage.
  • Not one witness *explicitly* heard a quid pro quo demand or request from the President himself.


Impeachment 101

  • An impeachment proceeding looks like a criminal trial, but it isn’t.
  • First, the House Judiciary Cmte. drafts “articles of impeachment” (charges); simple majority is needed to impeach in the House.
  • Next, the Senate holds trial. A 2/3 supermajority is required for conviction (removal from office).

Where It Comes From:

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.

Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. The founders purposely left ‘high crimes” open-ended for Congress to decide. Consequently, the power of removing the U.S. President falls to the people’s representatives.

“Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is NOT defined by the U.S. Constitution. Accordingly, it’s left up to Congress to interpret.

An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Then-U.S. Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI) in 1970. Ford became president in 1974 after Pres. Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal as he faced impeachment.

How It Works:

The House of Representatives can vote for impeachment, but only the Senate can remove.

  • House Judiciary Cmte. drafts “articles of impeachment” (charges) which must be approved by a simple majority (21 of 41).
  • A simple majority (216 of 431) is needed to impeach in the House.
  • Senate holds impeachment proceeding (trial). Conviction (removal) requires a 2/3 supermajority (67 of 100).
    • [Senate breakdown: 53 GOP / 45 Dem / 2 Independent]

Bigger Picture:

No U.S. president has EVER been impeached AND removed from office.  Pres. Trump is the third U.S. president impeached by the House.

  • Pres. Bill Clinton (1998) impeached for obstruction of justice & lying under oath; 22 votes shy of Senate conviction.
  • Pres. Andrew Johnson (1868) impeached on 11 charges; 1 vote short of conviction by Senate.

Did You Know?

  • Pres. Richard Nixon wasn’t impeached. The House Judiciary Committee passed articles of impeachment, but he resigned before the full House voted on them.
  • Pres. Bill Clinton served for more than two years after he was impeached by the House. Republicans lost public support & seats in the House during the impeachment process.


Read more:

The Impeachment Process in the House of Representatives

Pathway of the impeachment process: How it works, where we are 

What Is the Impeachment Process? A Step-by-Step Guide

When Congress Decides A President’S ‘High Crimes And Misdemeanors’  

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed  

Impeachment Results: How Democrats and Republicans Voted