What The Heck is Impeachment?

“Impeachment” is a word that has been floating around a lot recently, but there is also a lot of confusion on what impeachment means and what exactly is going to happen. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the basic questions about impeachment. 

What does impeachment mean?

Simply put, voting to impeach just means putting the president on trial to see whether or not he committed, to quote the Consititution,  “treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and misdemeanors.” If a president is impeached, it does NOT mean he is removed from office; impeachment is just voting to put the president on trial. The House of Representatives votes on whether or not to impeach the president; they require a simple majority (more than half) to vote to impeach the president. Currently, that means that 218 House members need to vote for the President to be impeached. The House currently has 198 Republicans, 235 Democrats, and 1 independent.

What happens after impeachment? 

If a president is impeached by the House of Representatives, his case is brought before the Senate, who acts essentially as a jusry hearing evidence.  They then vote on whether or not he is guilty; if the president is found guilty, then he is removed from the office of the president. In order to convict the president, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote that he was guilty. Currently, that means that 67 senators would need to vote to remove the president. The Senate currently has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents. 

Has this happened before? 

In U.S. history, two presidents have been impeached (Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson), though no president has ever been convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before the impeachment proceedings were completed. 

What is currently happening with impeachment?

On September 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump; essentially, the House is investigating whether or not they think there is evidence that the President committed impeachable offenses.

Why is the president being investigated?

The president has been accused of pressuring the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as his son, Hunter Biden. Joe Biden is currently running in the 2020 presidential election, and is the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. The president is also being accused of stopping aid to Ukraine, in order to convince the Ukrainian president to aid him. 

What is a “whistleblower”?

A whistleblower is any person who releases classified information to the public, because they believe something corrupt is occurring. In the case of the President, a whistleblower within the government filed a complaint that the President had sought aid in undermining a political opponent from Ukraine. Furthermore, the whistleblower said that the President had tried to classify the transcript of the phone call, in order to make sure that Congress could not view it. You can read the full whistleblower complaint here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html

Why does the president want the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden? 

Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company five years ago, while his father was still Vice-President. That company, Burisma Holdings, was investigated for corruption by the Ukrainian government. However, neither Hunter Biden nor the former Vice President were found to have committed any criminal wrongdoing, and the claim made by Trump associates that Biden had the Ukrainians fire a top prosecutor becuase that prosecutor was investingating his son Hunter, is not substantiated, and has been disputed by both the U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

What is President Trump’s reaction to all this?

The President has claimed he has done no wrong. He released notes that were taken during a phone call with the Ukrainian president, stating that they will vindicate him. You can read the notes here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/25/us/politics/trump-ukraine-transcript.html