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Breaking down the history of impeachment

Posted at 6:06 PM, Dec 20, 2019

The impeachment process is one that isn’t used very often, but it’s been around since the birth of the U.S. Constitution.

“It was an idea as a check on the abuse of political power,” said Norman Provizer, a professor of political science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

He said impeachment is like an indictment. It doesn't mean the president is automatically booted out of office. When a simple majority of the House of Representatives votes to impeach, the next step is a trial in the Senate. The president can then be removed from office by a two-thirds vote in the senate.

Only three U.S. presidents ever have been impeached: Presidents Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Johnson and Clinton both managed to finish their terms in office. President Richard Nixon actually resigned before the House of Representatives could pass the impeachment articles against him.

“Andrew Johnson, one of the charges against him was he didn’t follow an act passed by Congress. And that is illegal, you can’t do that,” Provizer said.

Provizer said there was a lot of disagreement between Johnson and Congress during his term in the 1860s. Clinton’s impeachment more than a century later had little to do with Congress.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman," Clinton said at a White House press conference in 1998.

Turns out Clinton did have an affair with a White House intern, despite denying it during testimony.

“There is a thing about perjury — lying under oath. All of it’s surrounding sexual activities, if you will,” Provizer said.

Impeachment isn’t only for presidents. In fact, Provizer said it’s mainly used to try and potentially remove federal judges.

“It says in the constitution the president, the vice president and other civil officers," the professor said.

Provizer said presidential impeachments are often most noteworthy because they come with dramatic storylines. He says people start to draw connections between different impeachment proceedings. For example, the partisan divide we’re facing now was seen during Nixon’s administration.

“It looks like the Republicans are defending him, and the Democrats are going after him. I mean, that’s how it’s viewed — very partisan. But as it unfolds and more information comes out, basically, many Republicans drop their effort to defend him.”

As of now, most of the Republican party has remained loyal to Trump.

In the end, Provizer said all impeachment proceedings have been fundamentally the same. They simply deal with different subject matter.

“If you give a government power, what do you also have to be concerned with? The ability to check that power," Provizer said. "You need both. Otherwise you have authoritarian rule."