After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump will be launched, many people are wondering just what impeachment is and exactly how it works. The term impeachment has been thrown around throughout much of the duration of Trump's presidency, though it gained steam after it was alleged that he had urged Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden's son, Hunter, over a number issues.
While "impeachment" is commonly used to refer to the removal of someone from office, it actually refers to the filing of charges. As CBS News reports, impeachment is the process in which the House of Representatives, the lower house of legislative branch, "brings charges against a civil officer in government." In this instance, that civil officer is Trump.
According to Article II, Section 4 of The Constitution, "The President…shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
As "high crimes and misdemeanors" are not defined within the document, it is up to Congress to decide what constitutes an impeachable offense.
The process starts when Congress opens an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether impeachment is called for. "The committee can then recommend that the full House vote on articles of impeachment," the outlet reports. The House of Representatives then either passes or does not pass the Articles of Impeachment by a majority vote. If passed, the president has been "impeached."
Once the House brings charges against that official, the Senate then holds a trial with the chief justice of the Supreme Court overseeing it, the final step of process to remove a president from office. In order to convict and remove a sitting president from office, a two-thirds majority of the Senate is required, or 67 senators out of 100.
Currently, Democrats hold 47 seats, meaning they would need 20 of the current 53 Republican senators to effectively remove Trump from office. If removed, the Vice President, currently Mike Pence, would take command.
If Trump were to be impeached, he would become only the third president in our nation's history to be removed from office. In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House on 11 articles of impeachment, namely violating the Tenure of Office Act. In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached on two articles of impeachment: Perjury and obstruction of justice. In both instances, the former presidents were later acquitted by the Senate.