To me, the American impeachment process is a lot like the Electoral College. Everyone knows what it is, but most Americans have zero idea of how it actually works.
Impeachment is a term that is often thrown out but rarely done. In fact, in the entire history of America, a total of 62 impeachment proceedings have been initiated. Of these, 19 ended in impeachment by the House of Representatives and only four impeachment proceedings involved the President of the United States.
That is the first fun fact about impeachments: that any federal official can be impeached by the House of Representatives. Of the 19 impeachments that have occurred, 15 were federal judges.
The first judge who was impeached was John Pickering in 1803. He was impeached for abuse of power and drunkenness. The last impeachment occurred in 2010. Judge Thomas Porteous of Louisiana was impeached and removed from his appointment for corruption and making false financial statements.
Only four impeachment proceedings have involved U.S. Presidents. Of these four, the two that people seem to care about the most are President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton. However, impeachment proceedings were started against President James Buchanan in 1860. They ruled that nothing he had done actually warranted impeachment but the committee did put on the record that Buchanan was the most corrupt administration since the adaptation of the U.S. Constitution.
Nixon was never technically impeached. It seems like a lot of people think he was impeached and thrown out of office. In reality, Nixon saw the writing on the wall and decided to resign rather than be thrown out. The charges brought against Nixon were abuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress. This is another important part of impeachment 101. The impeachment process is not an overall rebuke or judgment on all of the actions of an official or an administration. It focuses on specific events, actions and crimes.
Another impeachment falsehood I hear quite often is that impeachment will kick President Donald Trump out of office. That is simply not true. Clinton illustrates that point beautifully. He was impeached in December 1998 by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. But, the Senate did not reach the super majority required to remove him from office.
The impeachment process starts in the House, then when that is voted on the process moves to the Senate where the impeachment trial is hosted. It is a lot like a criminal trial — witnesses testify, defenses are made, etc. Then the Senate deliberates in private and then announces its judgment. To convict a person and throw them out of office, the constitution requires a two-thirds super majority.
This process takes a very long time. In fact, the chances are very high that this current impeachment process will still be going during most of the 2020 election process.
No matter who you side with in this matter, the impeachment process is interesting and is something every citizen needs to know about. Honestly, I have barely scratched the surface of how the process works and why it is designed the way it is. Long story short is: impeachment is built to take forever and involve a lot of people so cooler heads and facts prevail. If it was a one-week process, probably everyone would get kicked out of office before their term.