Episode 62: Impeachment Process

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 62: Impeachment Process

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If you have been following US news for the past few months (2019 and 2020), you might know that the US president was impeached. However, you might not know what that actually means.

It is important to understand that impeachment is not a criminal process. It is a political one. Article II of the Constitution states:

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.”

Impeachment is a two-step process. Congress is responsible for the actions. First, the House of Representatives brings impeachment charges against a federal official. Then, the Senate has a trial and votes whether to convict.

Here is the procedure:

  1. Members of the House of Representatives must either introduce an impeachment resolution just like they would a regular bill, or they can pass a resolution to start an inquiry. During the inquiry, evidence is gathered and charges are stated. After a few weeks or months of investigation, the representatives vote. If a majority of representatives votes to impeach, there is a trial in the Senate. This should be conducted like a normal trial in a court of law.
  2. Members of the House are appointed to manage the Senate trial, which means they act as prosecutors. The impeached official gathers a legal defense team. Senators act as the jury. After the prosecution and defense teams present their sides of the case, the Senators vote. If two-thirds or more of the senators present vote for conviction, the impeached official is removed from office and possibly prohibited from holding office in the future. There is no other punishment, such as fines or prison time.

Further charges can be brought against the removed official in regular courts, if anyone wants to do that. Additional legal procedures would then follow, including negotiations and even trials, but they aren’t guaranteed, and they don’t involve Congress.

More information about impeachment in the US:

  • The Constitution does not specify what “high crimes and misdemeanors” are. Therefore, the House of Representatives can decide.
  • If the president is convicted by the Senate and removed from office, the Vice President becomes president.
  • Other federal officials besides the president can be impeached by the House.
  • The House has begun 62 impeachment investigations throughout history.
  • Only 20 of those 62 investigations resulted in impeachment: 30 judges, three presidents, one Cabinet secretary and one US senator.
  • The impeached presidents were Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. None were convicted or removed from office.
  • Andrew Johnson was Abraham Lincoln‘s vice president; he became president when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He was impeached in 1868.
  • Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998.
  • Donald Trump was impeached in 2020.
  • Impeachment proceedings were started against President Richard Nixon in 1973, but he resigned before he could be tried in the Senate.
  • All states except Oregon can impeach state officials. The procedures are basically the same as federal ones.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.

Episode 24 (formerly 1612): The President’s Cabinet


The President of the United States has a group of advisors that he depends on to run the country. This group of advisors is known as the president’s Cabinet. The Cabinet is established by the US Constitution. However, the Cabinet is only referred to indirectly in the Constitution as “executive departments” that advise the president. Its organization isn’t directly specified. Today’s Cabinet is a result of custom, necessity and tradition.

The Cabinet consists of the vice-president and the leaders, or secretaries, of 15 executive departments. Secretaries are appointed by the president and must be approved by the Senate. Only the president can fire them, and they are expected to resign when the president leaves office. The secretaries in the Cabinet are in the direct line of succession for the presidency if the president or vice-president cannot perform the duties of president.

The president meets almost every week with the Cabinet. Also included in the regular Cabinet meetings are the White House Chief of Staff and the secretaries of six additional Cabinet-level departments.

The first Cabinet meeting was held by George Washington, the country’s first president. However, the word “Cabinet” wasn’t used until the fourth president, James Madison, said it. It comes from an Italian word meaning small, private room.

Here is a list of the Cabinet executive departments in order of succession to the Presidency, along with their responsibilities:

  • Department of State (formerly Department of Foreign Affairs)
    Established 1789
    Responsible for international relations and international travel, including passports and visas. Hillary Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State.
  • Department of the Treasury
    Established 1789
    Collects taxes, manages the country’s money; produces currency; promotes financial stability
  • Department of Defense (formerly National Military Establishment)
    Established 1947
    In charge of the military forces; headquarters are in the Pentagon building in Washington, DC
  • Department of Justice
    Established 1870
    Enforces laws via the court system; responsible for the Supreme Court
  • Department of the Interior
    Established 1849
    Deals with natural resources and cultural heritage, especially for Native Americans; manages national parks, geology, oceans, mining, rivers, dams and forests
  • Department of Agriculture
    Established 1862
    Regulates food safety, farms, nutrition standards and rural development
  • Department of Commerce
    Established 1903
    Creates conditions for economic growth and opportunity; helps business
  • Department of Labor (formerly part of the Department of the Interior)
    Established 1913
    Promotes workers’, job seekers’ and retirees’ rights; improves working conditions and benefits
  • Department of Health and Human Services (formerly Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1953
    Enhances and protects health and well-being, medicine, public health and social services, including “Obamacare” administration
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Established 1965
    Helps ensure affordable housing for all
  • Department of Transportation
    Established 1967
    Oversees the national transportation system, including air, rail and cargo transportation, as well as infrastructure for private automobiles and public transportation
  • Department of Energy
    Established 1977
    Conducts programs to find clean, efficient, renewable energy and manages the US oil reserves
  • Department of Education (formerly part of Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1979
    Deals with public education standards and statistics plus financial aid programs for university students
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
    Established 1930 (elevated to Cabinet level 1989)
    Deals with benefits and programs for veterans
  • Department of Homeland Security
    Established 2002
    Protects the country from terrorism

The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank:

  • Environmental Protection Agency
    Concerned with environmental issues
  • Office of Management & Budget
    Largest part of the Executive Office of the President; helps implement presidential policies; concerned with national budget, procurement, IT, research for decision-making, communication review, Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda
  • United States Trade Representative
    Negotiates trade agreements with other nations
  • United States Mission to the United Nations
    The US delegation to the UN
  • Council of Economic Advisers
    Offers the President economic advice about domestic and international economic policy
  • Small Business Administration
    Helps small businesses via financial programs, training, technical assistance, and other areas

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Episode 20 (formerly 1608): US Federal Holidays

America has ten annual federal holidays, also called public holidays, national holidays or bank holidays. If a holiday is federal, it means that non-essential government offices such as the post office are closed, and employees are paid for the time off. Although it isn’t required, state government offices usually close, too. Many private businesses such as banks also close, but that’s up to the individual companies. Non-government employees don’t automatically get paid for the day off; if they do, it’s part of the company’s benefits package.

Congress must approve a proposal for a federal holiday, and the president must sign it into law. There have been, and still are today, many proposals for federal holidays, but it is a long process for them to be approved and signed into law. Most proposals don’t become official holidays.

Congress declared the first federal holidays in 1870, and they applied only to federal workers in the District of Columbia. The list consisted of only four holidays: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. However, the law allowed for more holidays to be added in the future. Later, all government employees in the country were included in the holiday benefit and, of course, more holidays were added.

The current federal holidays are as follows:
New Year’s Day – January 1
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday – third Monday in January
Washington’s Birthday – third Monday in February
Memorial Day – last Monday in May
Independence Day – July 4
Labor Day – first Monday in September
Columbus Day – second Monday in October
Veterans Day – November 11
Thanksgiving Day – fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day – December 25

In most instances, a federal holiday has a rather long history of being an official observance at state or local levels first. Let’s take Veterans Day for example. It was celebrated as Armistice Day by presidential proclamation starting in 1919 to honor World War I veterans. It expanded to include World War II veterans in 1945. Then, a U.S. Representative introduced a bill into Congress to make the holiday federal. After passing both houses of Congress, President Eisenhower signed the bill into law in 1954.

Notice that three federal holidays occur on a Monday near the actual date of the historic event celebrated. This is to ensure a three-day weekend for federal employees. However, the holiday is scheduled near the actual event. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is January 15 and the official holiday is the third Monday of that month. Similarly, Washington’s actual birthday was February 22 and Columbus sighted land in North America on October 22.

The remaining holidays are celebrated on the dates listed. However, if they fall on a Saturday or Sunday when business offices are normally closed, the day off occurs on the following Monday.

Another thing you might notice is that the federal holidays are not religious holidays, with the exception of Christmas. Since the USA officially encourages religious freedom, there are some that think Christmas should not be a federal holiday. However, the nation’s founders were Christian and Christmas is so entrenched in the culture of the USA that eliminating it from the federal holiday roster is not likely.

That said, other ethnic groups and religions are free to celebrate days with special meaning to them without the government’s approval. Often, companies allow members of those groups to take paid days off because of their affiliations. Examples include Easter for Christians, the High Holy Days for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, Day of Vesak for Buddhists, and Diwali for Hindus.

There are many other non-federal, secular observances as well, such as Valentine’s Day, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Flag Day and Halloween. For these, there are celebrations and traditions carried out but usually no closed businesses or paid time off.

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Episode 17 (formerly 1605): Memorial Day


Every year on the last Monday in May, Americans observe the Memorial Day holiday. It is a federal holiday that honors the fallen soldiers from wars fought by the USA.

Memorial Day began as a remembrance of soldiers who died in the Civil War. However, since World War I, Memorial Day has been a day of respect for soldiers who died in any conflict protecting the USA.

Historically, many communities had designated a day to appreciate those who were killed in battle. However, Waterloo, New York, is officially recognized as the birthplace of Memorial Day. On May 5, 1866, the townspeople there held solemn ceremonies and decorated soldiers’ graves with flowers.

In 1868, the leader of US military forces made a formal declaration that May 30th would be a day set aside for honoring soldiers who died in service by decorating their graves with flowers. Therefore, the day was named Decoration Day.

Nevertheless, it was not yet an official federal holiday. Instead, individual states could choose to have Decoration Day on May 30th or not. All of the states eventually designated a Decoration Day, but some states chose a different date. It was not until after World War I that most of the states conformed to the May 30th date.

And it wasn’t until 1971 that Decoration Day became a federal holiday. At the same time, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and the date was changed from May 30th to the last Monday in May. That way, federal workers could have a three-day weekend.

Today, Memorial Day is a very big deal. The president or vice-president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. A small American flag is placed on each soldier’s grave there as well.

A major tradition you will see on Memorial Day is members of veterans organizations collecting donations on street corners and outside shops to help disabled veterans. In return for a donation, you get a small, red poppy made by a disabled vet. These little flowers are worn proudly that day.

At 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, there is a national moment of silence to remember and honor the fallen soldiers. There is a national parade in Washington, D.C., and a big concert. In most communities across the nation, soldiers’ graves are decorated with flags or flowers, and there are parades, concerts, fireworks and celebrations on a smaller scale.

Nowadays, retailers use Memorial Day as an opportunity to have big sales. Families and friends gather on that weekend to have barbecues and parties. The Indianapolis 500 car race is held on Memorial Day weekend. It is unofficially regarded as the beginning of summer, and people make the most of the long weekend.

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Episode 6 (formerly 1506): The Constitution and Federal Government


“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This is the famous preamble to the US Constitution. Written at the beginning of this historic document, the preamble is a summary, or mission statement, describing the goals the Founding Fathers hoped to accomplish. The Founding Fathers were a group of important statesmen, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The Constitution was written in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was ratified in 1789 and replaced the Articles of Confederation, which had governed the original 13 US states since the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The Constitution was the first of its kind and has become the model for other constitutions in other countries. It originally consisted of only five pages, and remains the shortest existing constitution of any country in the world today.

In 1791, the first 10 amendments were ratified and became additions to the Constitution. These ten amendments are referred to as the Bill of Rights. It guarantees personal, individual freedoms for citizens. Since then, only 17 more amendments have been added to the Constitution. Of course, volumes of constitutional laws have been written over the years to clarify and enhance the concepts set forth by the Constitution.

The main idea behind the Constitution is separation of governmental power so that the federal government does not have too much control. To this end, three branches of government were established: legislative, executive and judicial. This system is designed so that no branch has more power than the other. It is known as the system of checks and balances.

The legislative branch includes Congress and is responsible for making laws. It consists of a bicameral legislature made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. All of the members of Congress are elected by the people. Two senators are selected from each state to make up the Senate. The House of Representatives is comprised of 435 representatives. The number of representatives from each state is based on population.

The executive branch is tasked with carrying out the laws made by Congress. This branch consists of the president, vice-president, the Cabinet and executive departments and committees. The president’s Cabinet, whose members head the executive departments, are also considered his expert advisors. The people elect the president and vice-president. The rest of the executive branch is appointed by the president and approved by Congress.

The third branch, the judicial branch, interprets the laws made by the legislative branch and decides if the laws violate the Constitution. This branch consists of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Its nine judges are appointed by the president and approved by Congress.

Additionally, another way that the power is distributed in the United States is that the individual states can make their own laws. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says that any power not specifically granted to the federal government falls to the states. Most states have their own constitutions with three branches of government, similar to the federal model.

Today, the original copy of the Constitution resides in the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. You can visit it as a tourist. You can also visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which is now a part of the Independence National Historical Park.

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