What is impeachment?

DONALD Trump has made history after becoming the first US president to be impeached twice.

Ten of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurrection in the Capitol's deadly, violent rampage.

What is impeachment?

Put simply, impeachment is when a sitting president is charged with crimes.

In the case of Donald Trump, he has been accused of inciting insurrection by encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol, Washington D.C., on January 6, 2021.

The United States' founders feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours.”

Impeachment begins in the House – the lower chamber of Congress.

The "sole power of impeachment" is held by the House of Representatives.

Lawmakers debate and vote on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment".

A simple majority is required – i.e. more than half of Congress must vote to impeach the president.

Then the case is tried by the US Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to basically green-light the impeachment .

Its members decide whether the person accused of impeachment is guilty or not. But, it's a political trial – not a criminal one.

What would impeachment mean for Donald Trump?

Impeachment would not automatically ban Trump from a 2024 presidential run, according to ABC 7 News.

Despite rumours to the contrary, the Senate would have to hold an additional vote on any such ban from a bid to serve a second term.

Paul Campos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, said that even if the Senate does not convict the president, senators could hold a second, separate vote to prevent him from future office.

Two historical precedents, both involving federal judges, make clear that the Senate could also vote to disqualify the president from holding office in the future, with only a simple majority needed.

That would mean Democrats, who will take control of the Senate later in January, could bar Trump from running for president in 2024 even without the support of Republican senators.

Trump could, however, try to challenge such a determination in court, Campos said.

Other legal experts, however, said the Senate could only prevent Trump from holding office if it first votes to convict him in the impeachment trial.

Lawmakers could also declare that Trump engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” under the 14th Amendment to prevent him from running again.

This would require a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Two-thirds of each chamber can subsequently vote to lift the ban.


Another rumour going viral on Twitter is a claim that Trump will lose his post-presidential benefits, such as security detail and pension.

But, according to a fact-check by WTHR, that's not entirely true.

Experts told the broadcaster that impeaching the President alone would not strip him of benefits, including his over $200,000 pension – Trump would have to be impeached AND convicted by the Senate.

Under the Former Presidents Act, ex US leaders are entitled to a pension, office space, office staff, plus money for travel and security.

However, a "former president removed by impeachment wouldn't qualify for that", WTHR says, after checking with legal experts.

How does impeachment work and how many votes are needed?

Impeachment begins in the House of Representatives – the lower chamber – in the US Capitol, Washington D.C.

Donald Trump faced just a single charge, “incitement of insurrection”, in an impeachment resolution on January 13, 2021.

Politicians – Republicans and Democrats – in the chamber then debated that charge.

After hours of impassioned discussion, they voted on whether to bring charges against the president by agreeing with the impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment”.

The chamber needed a simple majority, or 217 votes, to impeach Trump.

For his second impeachment,the House voted by 232 to 197 to impeach the president for "incitement of insurrection".

With the House approving articles of impeachment, a trial will now be held in the upper chamber, the Senate.

House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the US Supreme Court will preside.

Conviction and removal of Trump will require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided.

This means at least 17 Republicans would have to vote with Democrats in the evenly split, 100-seat chamber, explains the BBC.

But a trial will not be carried out before he leaves office on January 20.

Can the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump?

A day after Donald Trump incited supporters to attack the US Capitol, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him from office, saying “This president should not hold office one day longer.”

The 25th Amendment declares that upon the removal, resignation or death of the president, the VP assumes the presidency, explains The Conversation.

Commonly referred to as the Disability Clause, this constitutional provision also specifies that if the president is unable to perform the functions of his office, the VP will serve as acting president.

The 25th Amendment has been invoked only a few times in history.

In 2002 and 2007, President George W. Bush invoked the Disability Clause prior to scheduled colonoscopy procedures that required anaesthesia and sedation.

During this limited time, vice president Dick Cheney became acting president.

"But there is no precedent for the type of situation currently facing the United States," writes Stephanie Newbold, Associate Professor, public affairs and administration, Rutgers University, Newark.

Vice president Mike Pence told House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on January 12 that he is opposed to invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office after his supporters laid siege to the US Capitol.

“I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution,” Pence said.

Is there an election after a presidential impeachment?

No, there won't be another election.

If Donald Trump's case had gone through a speedy trial in Senate, and this chamber had voted to convict him prior to Joe Biden being inaugurated as president, then vice-president Mike Pence would immediately have taken the oath of office and become president for the remaining days of the administration.

Do officials who have been impeached go to prison?

A Senate trial has the power to oust a president from office, and ban him or her from running for future office.

But, it does NOT have the power to send a president to jail.

"An impeachment proceeding is the formal process by which a sitting president of the United States is accused of wrongdoing.

"It is a political process and not a criminal process," explains ABC News in the US.

Suzanna Sherry, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said: "The worst that can happen is that he is removed from office, that's the sole punishment."

Have any presidents been impeached before?

Donald Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice.

The House voted to impeach Trump on December 18, 2019, on two articles of impeachment.

These were for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, in connection with his alleged quid pro quo call with the Ukrainian president.

In February 2020, the Senate, run by the president's fellow Republicans, voted to acquit him 52-48 on charges of abuse of power and 53-47 on obstruction of Congress, says BBC News.

ABC News explains that Richard Nixon faced three articles of impeachment related to the Watergate scandal.

It was alleged the Nixon obstructed the investigation and helped cover up the crimes surrounding the break-in.

But he didn’t let the process get any further, resigning before the House could impeach him.

In Bill Clinton's infamous impeachment, his case was connected to the cover-up of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky while in office.

But, it was 22 votes away from reaching the necessary number of votes in the Senate.

In Andrew Johnson's case in 1868, the Senate fell just one vote short of removing him from office on all three counts.

Johnson had "clashed with the Republican-led House over the 'rights of those who had been freed from slavery,' although firing his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, who was backed by the Republicans, led to the impeachment effort," explains ABC.


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