COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The term “impeachment” is sometimes used to refer to removing a president from office, but it’s actually the step before that.
Specifically, impeachment refers to charging someone who holds public office.
Near the end of September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a statement in the direction of impeachment -- but didn’t go that far.
Pelosi launched a formal “impeachment inquiry.” But that’s just the first step.
In this case, that term means she is asking six congressional committees to continue investigating President Donald Trump under an “umbrella of impeachment inquiry,” as she said.
Then, members of the House may draft articles of impeachment.
Once articles of impeachment are drafted, Pelosi can bring the matter of impeachment to a vote in front of the full House of Representatives.
Right now, there are 235 Democrats in the House and it takes a simple majority of 218 votes to pass the articles of impeachment. If it passes, the president is formally impeached.
“According to the Constitution, U.S. Presidents can be impeached for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,'” said Kirk Randazzo, USC Professor of Political Science. “While the Constitution does not specify what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor, the general understanding is that these involve abuses of power. Given the evidence that such abuses may have occurred by President Trump, an impeachment inquiry is necessary to determine the extent to which he acted in a manner unbecoming the presidency."
Impeachment has only happened two times before -- to Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
After impeachment, the Senate then works to figure out if the president will be removed from office.
Senators can hold a trial, which is presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Right now that is Justice John Roberts.
It takes a two-third majority vote in the Senate to remove the president from office.
Republicans currently have a majority in the Senate, so the prospect of more than two-thirds of Senate members voting to remove the president seems mathematically improbable.
In fact, no president has ever been removed from office after impeachment.
This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for Pelosi to hold a vote to put legislators in the House on record supporting the impeachment inquiry itself. He released the following statement:
“Democratic House members cannot be allowed to hide behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi when it comes to an impeachment inquiry of President Trump.
“They should – and must – vote to open an inquiry of impeachment so their constituents, country, and history can evaluate their actions.
“We need a ‘John Hancock Moment’ from House Democrats before moving forward on impeachment. It is past time for House Democrats to put their names on the line as supporting or opposing an impeachment inquiry.”
However, a vote of this nature is not required.
“It is not necessary to vote on the inquiry,” Randazzo said. “The only necessary part is for the House to vote on specific articles of impeachment.”
Pelosi released a letter in response to Graham’s push.
“There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry," the letter read, in part.
It is unlikely Pelosi will call for a vote on the impeachment inquiry before any articles of impeachment would be drafted.