What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the first step toward removing a government official from office. It is found in Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution:

“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.”

a little history

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the framers debated how to check the president’s power. Some believed that the president could be kept in line by an election every four years. James Madison convinced the group that four years was too long, that too much damage could occur if the only check against corruption or “loss of capacity” was an election cycle.

how impeachment starts

The House Judiciary Committee prepares the articles of impeachment, or charges brought against the president.

The entire House of Representatives votes on the articles of impeachment; a majority vote passes them on to the Senate.

Then, the impeachment trial is held in the Senate, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—currently this is John Roberts, who was appointed by George H.W. Bush—as the judge.

60 votes or more of 100 senators (2/3 of the Senate) is required for a conviction, which could result in removal from office.  

President Bill Clinton

Clinton was impeached in 1998 over allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to the Monica Lewinsky scandal in which he had an affair with a young intern and then lied about it.

The House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Clinton, but he was acquitted by the Senate and finished his second term in office.

President Richard Nixon

Nixon faced impeachment over his involvement in Watergate. The House of Representatives approved three articles of impeachment against him but he resigned before Congress began the proceedings.

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