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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Now for the podcast:


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.