Americans toss the idea of impeaching a president around pretty casually in conversation. We demand it, we talk about it like it’s a one-and-done kind of thing.
It is not. It really, really isn’t.
You can read about how federal impeachment works on Wikipedia, but very basically, the House Judiciary Committee first investigates if a president has committed impeachable offenses of some sort. “Impeachable offenses” are defined pretty vaguely in the Constitution: “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
So first the House Judiciary investigates. Investigation can take quite awhile – months, easily. If they find something they think is an “impeachable offense,” usually some kind of crime, the Judiciary will issue articles of impeachment with specific allegations. The articles of impeachment are sent on to the full House of Representatives.
The House debates the various allegations and votes on the articles of impeachment. A simple majority vote is needed to pass the articles. After that, folks from the House of Representatives present the case to the Senate.
The Senate holds a trial. The House presents the prosecution case, and the president would have his lawyers defend him. After hearing the case, the Senate deliberates among themselves, and they need a two-thirds super majority to convict the president.
Once the president is convicted, he’s out. This is a process that can take months. Clinton’s impeachment took just over a year, and I don’t think that’s counting whatever investigations the House Judiciary did at the time.
Impeaching a president is a lengthy, cumbersome, drama-filled process, and one that is not generally undertaken lightly by Congress.
Another thing to consider: The United States has never actually impeached and convicted a president before. We’ve never kicked a president out of office.
We’ve impeached two presidents in the House, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but they were both acquitted in the Senate. We started to impeach Richard Nixon, but he resigned before we really got going.
We’ve had 45 presidents over the course of 242 years. Some of them were pretty frickin’ awful. A few of them were monsters. And we’ve never kicked a single one out of office by impeachment.
I’m pointing this out to you because I want you to understand that impeaching a president and removing them from office has a momentous weight of history bearing down on it. This is the kind of action that stamps its mark on history for generations.
This is, as Joe Biden might say, a big fuckin’ deal.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do it. I’m not saying Trump doesn’t deserve it. (If anyone does, I’m pretty sure it’s him.) I’m just saying, this is not a thing you just up and do.
So if you’re one of the many, many people or news pundits out there who’s all “He should be impeached, why aren’t we impeaching him, we should do it tomorrow, yaddayaddayadda,” hey, take a breath. This isn’t going out for ice cream, man.
It’s probably gonna happen. We’ll probably at least try to impeach Trump. But it’s going to take a minute. Nobody changes the arc of history overnight.
Featured photo: US Capitol Building, by Martin Falbisoner. CC BY-SA 3.0. Source and licensing.
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