Impeachment is the first step in the Constitutional process for Congress to remove the president or other government officers. Although the Constitution sets a broad two-step process for impeachment and removal, there are many steps that have evolved from previous times impeachment and removal have been used on lower government officers, such as judges. No president has ever been removed from office.
Below you’ll find a simplified timeline of how impeachment and removal works, and some links to research reports that provide more detailed information.
① Impeachment Inquiry On Sept. 24, 2019, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives will move forward with an official impeachment inquiry. This announcement alone is enough to begin official impeachment proceedings, starting with the directive that six House committees continue their investigations of the President “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”
② Investigative Authority In the cases of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, a resolution was necessary to grant the House Judiciary Committee with authorities to conduct an investigation into impeachment. However, under the current House rules, the committee already has those authorities.
③ Committee Reports After investigating, committees will report their findings to the House as a whole. In the past, the House Judiciary Committee has voted on whether to recommend impeachment and has reported an impeachment resolution with specific allegations of misconduct. Each investigating committee may report separate findings.
④ Vote on Impeachment The House would then vote on an impeachment resolution containing articles of impeachment, which are the charges of misconduct. This vote only requires a simple majority for passage. If passed, the subject of the inquiry is impeached — which means the matter is referred next to the Senate.
⑤ Preparation for a Trial If the House chooses to impeach, there will be a trial in the Senate to determine if the President is guilty. To start this process, the House will select “managers” to present evidence to the Senate and to subpoena witnesses, and the Senate will issue a writ of summons to the impeached official to appear.
⑥ Trial The trial is roughly analogous to a criminal court trial, with the House managers playing the role of the prosecution, the Senate as the jury, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as the judge, and the impeached official is the defendant. However, the Constitution is clear that it is not a criminal trial, since the standards for evidence and conviction are up to the Senate.
⑦ Deliberation Similar to a jury, the Senate meets in closed session to deliberate the substance of the trial.
⑧ Vote on Conviction Finally, the Senate votes on each article of impeachment separately. These votes require a ⅔rd majority to convict, which results in removal from office. The Senate may also vote on whether the convicted official becomes disqualified from holding a government position again, for which only a simple majority is required.
⑨ Judicial Review Impeachment proceedings have been challenged in federal court on a number of occasions. In the unlikely event that the president is impeached and the Senate convicts him, there may be lawsuits to appeal the conviction. However, courts have said in the past that Congress’s power to impeach is broad and in many cases is not subject to judicial review.
These research reports provide additional information about the impeachment process.
Impeachment and Removal (Congressional Research Service; Oct. 29, 2015)
The Impeachment Process in the House of Representatives (Congressional Research Service; Aug. 12, 2019)
Congressional Resolutions on Presidential Impeachment: A Historical Overview (Congressional Research Service; Sept. 16, 1998)
Constitution Annotated: Art II., Sec. 4, Impeachment (Congressional Research Service)
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