What is impeachment and can Donald Trump be removed from office?

Impeachment is a mechanism by which Congress can remove a sitting president. Before Donald Trump, only two US presidents had been impeached. Mr Trump was impeached in 2020 over claims he abused his power by holding back aid to Ukraine in the hope that its leader would investigate Joe Biden, his political rival. He was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate. Now, Mr Trump faces becoming the first president in history to be impeached twice. Democrats are demanding that the president is removed from office after he incited a violent mob to attack the US Capitol on January 6. Democratic congressmen plan to table a single article of impeachment on January 11, accusing the president of “incitement of insurrection”.  Here is how impeachment works. What is impeachment? Impeachment is the process by which Congress puts certain officials, namely the president, on trial.   The US constitution lays out a broad scope of offences that can lead to impeachment: "Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."  How does it work and how many votes are needed? Impeachment does not mean a president will necessarily be kicked out of office. It proceeds like a bill passing through legislature. First, a majority in the House of Representatives – 218 out of 435 members – must approve articles of impeachment previously approved in committee. The Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives; 233 to 195 (five seats are vacant and one is independent). When Mr Trump was impeached in 2020, the articles of impeachment easily passed in the House. If the impeachment bill passes the House, it goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict the president and consequently remove him from office - so the bill would need to be backed by a lot of Republicans for the bill to pass. In 2020, the Senate voted to reject the articles of impeachment and denied the need to remove the president from office over the claims of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. A number of Republicans in the Senate have strongly condemned Mr Trump following the riot at the US Capitol – but it is not clear that enough of them will be prepared to move against the president. In 2020, 52 Republican senators voted against the charge of abuse of power, and 53 against the charge of obstruction of Congress. On the first charge, Mitt Romney defied his fellow Republicans, becoming the first senator in US history to vote to convict a President from their own party. Can the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump? Ms Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party leaders in the US House of Representatives and Senate respectively, publicly called on Mike Pence, the US vice president, to invoke the 25th Amendment, a mechanism that removes a president who is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office". Such a move would need to be backed by Mr Pence and a majority of Mr Trump's cabinet. There were media reports that some cabinet members were discussing the possibility, but it remained unclear how seriously it was being considered. John Kelly, Mr Trump's former chief of staff, on January 7 called on the cabinet to meet to discuss removing the president and said he would vote for removal if he was still a cabinet member. But Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who has been close to Mr Trump throughout his presidency, came out against invoking the 25th Amendment.  Read more: What is the 25th Amendment? What happened in 2020? The plan to impeach Mr Trump arose following accusations in 2019 that he obstructed justice, but it was not until the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in November in the midterm elections that impeachment became a realistic prospect in this term. Nancy Pelosi initially ruled out impeaching Mr Trump, citing opinion polls showing the public were not on board. She would note the need for a bipartisan approach if impeachment is to have a chance of succeeding. But the House Speaker changed her mind. In September, Ms Pelosi announced the Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings. Ms Pelosi said the trigger for action was the that Mr Trump held back aid to Ukraine in the hope its leader would investigate Mr Biden, the former US vice president who was then a Democrat candidate for president.  Watch her announce the bill in the video below. Is there an election after a presidential impeachment? No. In the event that Mr Trump is impeached, Vice President Mike Pence would immediately take the oath of office and become president for the remaining days of the administration, until Mr Biden assumes office on January 20. Should Mr Pence be impeached too, then the Speaker of the House, Mrs Pelosi, would take the top job. Vice President Mike Pence Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg Do impeached officials go to prison? Impeachment is a political process, not criminal.   Congress has no power to impose criminal penalties on impeached

What is impeachment and can Donald Trump be removed from office?

Impeachment is a mechanism by which Congress can remove a sitting president.

Before Donald Trump, only two US presidents had been impeached.

Mr Trump was impeached in 2020 over claims he abused his power by holding back aid to Ukraine in the hope that its leader would investigate Joe Biden, his political rival. He was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate.

Now, Mr Trump faces becoming the first president in history to be impeached twice. Democrats are demanding that the president is removed from office after he incited a violent mob to attack the US Capitol on January 6.

Democratic congressmen plan to table a single article of impeachment on January 11, accusing the president of “incitement of insurrection”. 

Here is how impeachment works.

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the process by which Congress puts certain officials, namely the president, on trial.  

The US constitution lays out a broad scope of offences that can lead to impeachment: "Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." 

How does it work and how many votes are needed?

Impeachment does not mean a president will necessarily be kicked out of office. It proceeds like a bill passing through legislature.

First, a majority in the House of Representatives – 218 out of 435 members – must approve articles of impeachment previously approved in committee.

The Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives; 233 to 195 (five seats are vacant and one is independent).

When Mr Trump was impeached in 2020, the articles of impeachment easily passed in the House.

If the impeachment bill passes the House, it goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict the president and consequently remove him from office - so the bill would need to be backed by a lot of Republicans for the bill to pass.

In 2020, the Senate voted to reject the articles of impeachment and denied the need to remove the president from office over the claims of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

A number of Republicans in the Senate have strongly condemned Mr Trump following the riot at the US Capitol – but it is not clear that enough of them will be prepared to move against the president.

In 2020, 52 Republican senators voted against the charge of abuse of power, and 53 against the charge of obstruction of Congress.

On the first charge, Mitt Romney defied his fellow Republicans, becoming the first senator in US history to vote to convict a President from their own party.

Can the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump?

Ms Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party leaders in the US House of Representatives and Senate respectively, publicly called on Mike Pence, the US vice president, to invoke the 25th Amendment, a mechanism that removes a president who is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office".

Such a move would need to be backed by Mr Pence and a majority of Mr Trump's cabinet. There were media reports that some cabinet members were discussing the possibility, but it remained unclear how seriously it was being considered.

John Kelly, Mr Trump's former chief of staff, on January 7 called on the cabinet to meet to discuss removing the president and said he would vote for removal if he was still a cabinet member. But Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator who has been close to Mr Trump throughout his presidency, came out against invoking the 25th Amendment. 

Read more: What is the 25th Amendment?

What happened in 2020?

The plan to impeach Mr Trump arose following accusations in 2019 that he obstructed justice, but it was not until the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in November in the midterm elections that impeachment became a realistic prospect in this term.

Nancy Pelosi initially ruled out impeaching Mr Trump, citing opinion polls showing the public were not on board. She would note the need for a bipartisan approach if impeachment is to have a chance of succeeding. But the House Speaker changed her mind. In September, Ms Pelosi announced the Democrats would begin impeachment proceedings.

Ms Pelosi said the trigger for action was the that Mr Trump held back aid to Ukraine in the hope its leader would investigate Mr Biden, the former US vice president who was then a Democrat candidate for president. 

Watch her announce the bill in the video below.

Is there an election after a presidential impeachment?

No. In the event that Mr Trump is impeached, Vice President Mike Pence would immediately take the oath of office and become president for the remaining days of the administration, until Mr Biden assumes office on January 20.

Should Mr Pence be impeached too, then the Speaker of the House, Mrs Pelosi, would take the top job.

Vice President Mike Pence Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Do impeached officials go to prison?

Impeachment is a political process, not criminal.  

Congress has no power to impose criminal penalties on impeached presidents or officials. However criminal courts could try to punish officials if they are believed to have committed crimes.

Some Democrats have called for criminal charges against Mr Trump for inciting riot, treason and sedition, though this seems unlikely to happen.

"There isn't any judicial review of impeachment decisions, so Congress just needs to be satisfied that Trump committed high crimes or misdemeanours," Jens David Ohlin, a law professor and associate dean at Cornell Law School said.

"They are the ultimate judge of what meets that standard."

Impeachment therefore is at the crossroads of politics and the law. "There's no requirement that the president must have been indicted" for a crime, Prof Ohlin added.

Richard Nixon would almost certainly have faced impeachments proceedings in 1974 over the Watergate scandal, but he resigned instead. 

History of impeachment

No US president has ever been ousted from office under impeachment proceedings.

Andrew Johnson was the first leader to go through the process in 1868. He was charged with breaking the law after he tried to replace the US secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, without congressional permission.

At the time - in the aftermath of the civil war - the president was required to consult the Senate about such decisions. His impeachment passed to the Senate, where he escaped being removed from office by a one-vote margin.

The other president was Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

He was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice in 1998, but he was acquitted in the Senate trial. 

Richard Nixon would almost certainly have faced impeachment proceedings in 1974 over the Watergate scandal and undoubtedly would have been removed from office.

However, the disgraced president resigned before it got that far and he handed the presidency over to Gerald Ford.