Impeachment Explained


Emma Seely, Managing Editor

Today, it is almost impossible to browse the Internet without hearing about the potential impeachment of President Donald Trump. Although the term “impeachment” is all over the news and social media, many Americans may not understand exactly what it is or what the process entails. According to Political Science Professor and Department Head, Dr. Christine Day, the term commonly used today is representative of a complicated, multi-step process.


“In the original US Constitution, there is a provision for removing the President from office,” Day says. “It’s colloquially known as ‘impeachment,’ but technically ‘impeachment’ is the first step. And it’s a two-step process. The first step is the House of Representatives votes by simple majority to impeach. And if they do that, then the Senate holds its own hearings and decides whether to convict, and that requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Upon conviction, the President is removed from office.”


Day mentions that the idea of conviction makes it sound as if a criminal trial is taking place, but impeachment is just a process of hearings carried out based on the suspicion of a “high crime.” These crimes, however, are sometimes hard to define. 


“‘The 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,’” Day says, quoting the Constitution. “So it’s Congress that can decide to remove them from office by that two-step process. And of course, what is an impeachable offense is extremely vague as [is written in] the Constitution, so it’s really up to Congress to decide.” 


Currently, Trump’s impeachment process is only at the inquiry stage, which means that the House of Representatives is looking into whether an impeachable offense has occurred. If they deem this to be the case, then the House will vote to decide if impeachment will proceed onto the conviction vote. 


“Very simple committees are holding hearings and investigations to decide whether there is an impeachable offense that warrants taking an impeachment vote in the House,” Day says. “They’re calling it an impeachment inquiry. It doesn’t even necessarily lead to a vote on whether to impeach or not. It’s inquiries and investigations to decide whether to even hold that vote.”


In the case of President Trump, the impeachment inquiry is looking into various potential “high crimes”. Day mentions “the Mueller report, of course, numerous investigations in Congress regarding the President’s finances and business, regarding [Trump] paying off alleged sex partners during the campaign, a number of issues that have been investigated.”