The process of impeaching a U.S. president is complicated both procedurally and politically. Join Active Minds as we seek to clarify how the process works and what is included in each step. We will separate the impeachment process from potential subsequent actions (trial, removal from office) and review historical impeachments as a way of understanding the current situation.

Key Lecture Points

  • Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official, including the President.  The US Constitution establishes that the House of Representatives has the “sole Power of Impeachment.”  By itself, impeachment cannot remove an official from office. Once someone has been impeached, he or she faces the possibility of conviction and removal via a trial in the Senate.
  • Until 2019, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were the only American presidents to be impeached. Neither was found guilty by the Senate or removed from office.
    Richard Nixon faced a serious threat of impeachment when he resigned.
  • The US House of Representatives opened a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump in September 2019. On December 18, 2019, in two separate votes that broke predominantly on party lines, the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump.

Exploration Questions

  • What were the most important charges brought against Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton?

Reflective Questions

  • For what sorts of actions do you think a president ought to be impeached? What do you think qualifies as a “high crime or misdemeanor?”
  • How would you determine whether a president were “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office?”
  • In what ways have the impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump been similar to the past impeachments we’ve discussed today? In what ways are they different?

More to Explore

  • US House of Representatives History of Impeachment Click here
  • The National Archives Transcript of the US Constitution Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Bowman, Frank O. High Crimes and Misdemeanors: Impeachment for the Age of Trump. Cambridge University Press, 2019. 464 pages. Careful academic analysis of the constitutional underpinnings of impeachment and the history of the use of impeachment.
    Click here to order
  • Hirsch, Alan. Impeaching the President: Past, Present, and Future. City Lights Books, 2018. 225 pages. An in-depth but concise look at the impeachment inquiries of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton in order to draw lessons for future impeachments.
    Click here to order
  • Mecham, Jon, et al. Impeachment: An American History. Modern Library, 2018. 270 pages. Four experts on the American presidency review the constitutional origins of impeachment, its historical use, and its relevance today.
    Click here to order