It has been nearly two weeks since House Democrats voted to charge President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Despite House Democrats passage of the articles, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has yet to transmit them to the Senate. Recently, Pelosi indicated that she may withhold the articles indefinitely, leading many to wonder, was Trump impeached?
Although the term "impeachment" is commonly used to describe the removal of an elected official from office, it actually refers only to the filing of formal charges by the House against a member of the Executive branch. To date, the House has impeached 19 federal officials.
Although the majority of federal officials impeached have been judges, two Presidents have also been impeached. In 1868, the House approved 11 articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson (D-NC); in 1998, the House approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton (D-AR).
The Constitution spells out impeachment procedure in great detail. Article I designates “the sole power of impeachment” to the House, while “the sole power to try all impeachments” is designated to the Senate.
Despite the Constitution’s clarity regarding the procedural aspects of impeachment, it is problematically vague when describing why a federal official may be impeached. Article II mentions only three reasons for which impeachment may be brought: “…Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The determination of what, exactly, falls under “other High Crimes and Misdemeanors” played prominently during the impeachment of Presidents Johnson and Clinton. It is important to note, that when the Constitution was drafted, the term “misdemeanors” had not yet assumed its current meaning as a criminal offense classification.
Once the articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, the upper chamber has a constitutional duty to hold a trial on the charges presented. Unlike the impeachment process, the Constitution does not address Senate trials in great detail.
The Constitution designates the Senate with the task of with handling the impeachment trial. The trial is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
In contrast to the British system of impeachment, which allows for the imposition of any punishment, including death, Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution limits the punishment for impeachment to removal and disqualification from holding federal office in the future.
To remove a federal official from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of removal – currently 67 votes. If the Senate fails to convict, the federal official is considered impeached but not removed, as was the case with Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.
Although the Constitution states that the House must transmit the articles to the Senate for trial, it is silent on when they must be submitted. Some progressives have urged Democratic leaders to withhold the articles indefinitely.
Pelosi left open the possibility that the House may never send the articles to the Senate if the two chambers cannot agree on trial procedures. Pelosi previously stated that House Democrats will decide "as a group" if, and when, they send the articles to the Senate.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat whose committee authored the articles, said that they "need to be sent in due course."
When asked what he thought of the possibility that the House might hold back the impeachment articles, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “I’m in no hurry.”
If Pelosi fails to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, she will have made the biggest donation to President Trump’s re-election campaign: he will be able to state, legitimately, that he was never impeached.