Speaker of the House announces impeachment inquiry

How does it work?

Graham Hill, Editor-in-Chief

Announcing an impeachment inquiry, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addresses the media on Sept. 24. The inquiry comes after allegations that President Donald Trump threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine unless they investigated former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and his business activities in the country.

Following Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of the launch of an impeachment inquiry exploring an alleged incident where President Donald Trump threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless it investigated former Vice President Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, discussion of the issue at stake, the inquiry itself and results of a potential impeachment has dominated political discussion. This article seeks to detail the impeachment process and provide information on the actual mechanisms and systems at work.  

The Constitution describes impeachment as the ability of Congress to remove any federal official from their position for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 19 people have been impeached, with eight of them being removed from office. 

Two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 for removing his Secretary of War in violation of a law passed by Congress, and Bill Clinton in 1998 for perjury. Both were acquitted. Impeachment was prepared against Richard Nixon, but he resigned before being removed from office. 

Impeachment was introduced when the nation was established, and the notes of fourth president and primary author of the Constitution James Madison reveal debate about the topic at the Constitutional Convention, with several delegates worrying it could be used for political means and bend the executive to the will of Congress.  

During the debate, Madison records fellow Virginia politician and early advocate of a bill of rights George Mason as saying, “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”  

In the end, the faction in favor of impeachment won out. Only the delegations of Massachusetts and South Carolina voted against a provision for impeachment of the president. 

The first step in the impeachment process traditionally has been a recommendation by the House Judiciary Committee, and this seems to be the avenue Pelosi is referring to with talk of an impeachment inquiry. If the committee finds what it deems significant enough evidence to consider impeachment, the issue is referred to a vote on the floor of the House.  

Articles of impeachment, which detail the exact offenses in question, are prepared and voted on. If a majority of the House votes in favor of any single article, the process moves to its next stage in the Senate. 

At this stage, an official is considered impeached, but not necessarily removed from office. In this stage, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court acts as judge and the Senate acts as a jury. Members of the House are appointed as the equivalent of prosecutors (this position is known as a manager), while the impeached official has their own defense lawyers. 

Outside of this, there is no mandated structure for how the trial in the Senate must go and rules are set by the Senate for how it will operate. At the end of the trial, the Senate votes and if a two-thirds majority is achieved, the official is removed from office.  

This process is not especially complex, but some have raised concerns that current political realities will play a major role in the impeachment proceedings. The House currently has a Democratic majority, while the Senate is majority Republican.  

Even some Democrats urge caution with this issue, fearing that if the impeachment fails, it would merely strengthen Trump’s position in the run-up to the 2020 elections.  

As of the time of this article’s writing, the effort remains as an impeachment inquiry and no official steps have been taken.