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Impeachment 101: Here’s how it would work (if it actually happened)

President Donald Trump used the threat of impeachment to rev up his base before the 2018 midterms and since then he’s given thought to the prospect he could be impeached.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has led to a guilty plea from Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for facilitating hush money illegally paid in the final days of the 2016 election to two women — former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who both alleged sexual encounters with the President.

That charge alone, if proven against Trump, had the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee saying the President would be guilty of “impeachable offenses.” Who knows what Mueller will ultimately find with regard to Russia.

But Rep. Jerry Nadler stopped short of saying Democrats would pursue impeachment. And other Democratic leaders have not actively pursued it either.

If Democrats tried to impeach Trump, the process would involve a series of complicated steps. Here’s a look at how it would work

The impeachment process


1

Numerous parties can initiate impeachement. A special counsel like former FBI Director Robert Mueller or a number of other organizations or individuals can start the process.

The allegation of impeachable offenses, including “high crimes and misdemeanors” must be made.

1

Numerous parties can initiate impeachement. A special counsel like former FBI Director Robert Mueller or a number of other organizations or individuals can start the process.

The Judiciary Committee Impeachment Panel gathered to hear evidence in the Watergate affair in July of 1974.

The House of Representatives must authorize the investigation.

2

The House of Representatives must authorize the investigation.

Usually through its judiciary committee, the House draws up an investigation and articles of impeachment.

3

The full House must vote on articles of impeachment. If a simple majority approves them, the Senate then holds a public trial on the Senate floor.

How possible is an impeachment?

According to the US Constitution, impeachment proceedings start in the House, then they have to go to the Senate for a trial.

In January, Democrats will control the House, so they could vote to investigate and impeach Trump on a simple party line.

Then it would go to the Senate, where it takes a two-thirds majority to find the President guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. That’s 67 senators if everyone votes. Republicans control the Senate, so they’d have to break with a President from their own party in a very big way. How big? Starting in January, 20 Republicans would have to cross the aisle and join 47 Democrats. That seems like a tall order.

Impeachment math

In January, Democrats will control the House. They could vote to investigate and impeach Trump on a simple party line. In the Senate, 20 Republicans would likely have to break with their party to convict.

House of Representatives Democrats could lose 17 votes and still have majority needed for impeachment Senate 20 Republicans votes would be needed for conviction

Plus, a lot of Democrats can remember when impeaching President Bill Clinton backfired on Republicans in the late 1990s. Clinton was popular overall, despite his infidelity and his lies about it. The Republican House impeached him, but nowhere near 67 senators voted to kick him out of office. He reached the height of his popularity as President when the effort was seen as a partisan attack. Every Democrat stayed with Clinton in the Senate and even a few Republicans voted against convicting him.now

Impeachment approval ratings vs. Trump’s approval rating now

Nixon’s low numbers helped convince him to resign. Clinton’s high numbers helped him survive.

It was a different story for Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in August of 1974 rather than be impeached. In his case, his popularity then was far lower than Trump’s is now. Members of his own party were starting to turn against him and he had no choice but to resign or probably be kicked out of office.

President Richard Nixon reading a farewell speech to his staff following his resignation in August of 1974.

That’s exactly why Trump has tried to paint the special counsel’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

If Trump were, somehow, impeached and removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would become President.

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