SALT LAKE CITY — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House would launch a formal impeachment inquiry after President Donald Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden days after withholding aid to the eastern European country.
The announcement caused upheaval among lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, some decrying the move as purely political while others claim it absolutely necessary.
Pelosi’s involvement, however, is a step forward for Democrats who have been itching to jumpstart impeachment proceedings. The house speaker has usually worked to decelerate the process until more information is available.
But how does the impeachment process even work, and what does this all mean for Trump?
What is impeachment?
The Constitution dictates that a president may be removed from office before his term is up if he is convicted of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Founding Father Alexander Hamilton described those crimes as the “misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
This means a president may be impeached for something that isn’t normally a crime but simply an abuse of power.
The only presidents to ever be impeached were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, though both were eventually acquitted by the U.S. Senate and finished their terms in office. Richard Nixon came close to facing an impeachment inquiry but resigned from the presidential office before it began, thus avoiding the process altogether.
How does impeachment work?
The Constitution does not offer a lot of direction as to how an impeachment process must proceed, but it does explain that the House of Representatives has the “sole power of impeachment” while the Senate has “the sole power to try all impeachments.”
Being “impeached” does not necessarily mean being removed from office. The House can impeach, but the Senate must vote to end the president’s term.
Here’s what could happen in this case:
- Six House committees are currently investigating and will continue to investigate any wrongdoing by Trump. They will send their findings to the House Judiciary Committee.
- The House Judiciary Committee will decide whether their findings are sufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing.
- If the findings do provide sufficient evidence, the House will hold a floor vote on impeachment. If a majority of the House (currently controlled by Democrats) votes to impeach Trump, it’s official.
- The impeachment would then move to the Senate, which would hold a trial. House lawmakers would be the prosecutors, Trump would have defense lawyers, and the Senate (currently controlled by Republicans) would be the jury.
- If two-thirds or more of the Senate vote to convict Trump, the president would be removed from office.
Some ‘what if’s’
The impeachment process can be kind of iffy. The Constitution doesn’t lay out hard-and-fast rules the House and Senate must follow.
For example, Pelosi did not say whether she intended to bring a resolution to the House floor to vote on the impeachment inquiry, and she may not have to. But if she did, it’s unclear whether she’d have enough support from the House.
If the House did vote to impeach Trump, however, there are no set rules for the subsequent trial. The Republican-backed Senate may be able to vote to dismiss the case, if they’re even required to call for it at all.
So while a “formal impeachment inquiry” sounds, well, formal, it’s just a first step.