The House of Representatives has begun “an official impeachment inquiry” into President Donald Trump — after revelations that he urged Ukraine to investigate one of his top rivals for 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden.
What comes next?
Articles of Impeachment First Drafted in the House
Two presidents have been impeached, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1896, though in the end neither was removed from office. In both instances the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives investigated and then recommended articles of impeachment to the full House.
In this case, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed the six committees already investigating Trump — Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Reform and Ways and Means — to proceed under the umbrella of the impeachment inquiry. House members can declare a charge of impeachment on their own, though the Judiciary Committee has typically had jurisdiction over impeachments. Pelosi did not specify how the inquiry would move forward.
The full House would have to approve articles of impeachment for the process to then move to the Senate. The inquiry could also end without charges.
What Is an Impeachable Offense?
The Constitution spells out “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” as cause to remove a president from office. It does not define “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but the phrase comes out of British common law and referred to crimes by public officials against the government. An offense does not have to be a criminal act.
The House Votes on Impeachment
If the House investigations result in articles of impeachment, the full House votes, either on each article separately or on the resolution as a whole. A simple majority of those voting is needed on at least one article to impeach, or formally charge, the president. It would take at least 218 votes to clear the Democratic-controlled House. The House would select members to manage the trial in the Senate.
The Senate Holds a Trial
Once the accusation moves on to the Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over a trial. The House managers would serve as prosecutors, while Trump would be entitled to defense lawyers.
During a trial, both sides can present evidence and call witnesses.
After final arguments, the Senate meets in closed session to deliberate but then votes in public. A two-thirds vote of the senators present is needed for a conviction and removal from office. Republicans now control the Senate with 53 seats. No appeal is possible.
One wrinkle in the process: Could Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuse to hold a trial? The New York Times reported that it was unclear who had the authority to convene the Senate for a trial, Roberts or McConnell.
And finally a question of fashion. Chief Justice William Rehnquist famously wore a special robe that he designed for Clinton's impeachment trial. According to Harvard Law School, he added four gold stripes to the sleeves as an homage to a character in Iolanthe, a Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta. Will Roberts follow suit?