On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump over reports that the president solicited dirt on Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.
A whistleblower complaint accused Trump of asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide details on Hunter Biden in exchange for previously authorized military aid the president had cut. The whistleblower’s memo and a summarized transcript of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky have since been released.
Now that an impeachment inquiry is underway, many Americans are exposed to the process for the first time. It’s a confusing and complicated political process, so just how does it all play out?
How impeachment works
The first thing to know is that an impeachment inquiry is not the same as impeachment itself. An impeachment inquiry is an evidence gathering process in which lawmakers look at the alleged misconduct, gather evidence and determine whether or not to move forward with the impeachment process.
If the House of Representatives decides to move forward with impeachment, all they have to do is vote by a simple majority to impeach the president. Once that vote has been passed, the case then moves to the Senate.
“The case heads to the Senate, and the Senate has a trial. If the person is convicted by a two-thirds majority in the Senate, then they are removed,” said Brian Kalt, a professor at the MSU College of Law and an expert on the impeachment process. “If they want, they can impose an additional punishment of disqualifying the person from serving in federal office again.”
“There’s a very common misconception that it has to be a crime,” Kalt said. “But the impeachment process is, by design, completely separate from the criminal justice system. This is about safeguarding the office the person occupies, and going after official misconduct. It does not have to be a crime — In fact, Congress has said very clearly that it is a separate category.”
Some other reasons to impeach the president would be abusing the pardon power, emolument clause violations and ignoring constitutional limits on presidential power, Kalt said.
“Defenders of (the president) will often be the ones to say, ‘There wasn’t a crime here,’ but that never works,” Kalt said. “Congress has always rejected that reading of it. It was clear in the convention when they drafted the constitution, it’s been clear ever since. It’s been clear for centuries.”
Kalt said vague constitutional language describing that an elected official can be impeached and removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors” is responsible for some of these misunderstandings.
Who supports it?
Support for presidential impeachment is broken up along party lines. As of now, 223 Democratic representatives support impeachment. Rep. Justin Amash (MI-03) left the GOP, declaring himself an independent. He also supports impeachment, bringing the total number of Congress members supporting impeachment to 224.
Conservatives generally do not support impeaching the president, with many calling it a publicity stunt by the Democrats. Nevertheless, an impeachment inquiry is a very serious issue and it has a strong impact on American politics.
“(James Madison College Conservatives) recognizes the gravity of an impeachment inquiry—not just to one political party or another, but to our democracy as a whole,” a JMCC representative said via email.
Any action to remove a sitting president from office must be treated with such reverence, and we hope that our elected officials on both sides of the aisle do not let their own allegiances subvert facts that are brought to light in this case. In the days and weeks to follow, we will follow the investigation closely.”
Some Democrats are also wary of impeachment, as they see Vice President Mike Pence as a larger threat to Democratic ideals than Trump.
“Trump being out of office leaves Pence in charge, and some of us definitely feel that Pence is going to be more competent and efficient at implementing harmful policies than Trump has been,” Michigan State College Democrats Press Secretary Maysa Sitar said.