To impeach the president of the United States in the House of Representatives requires a simple majority vote. This means at least 218 votes in the House would be needed to impeach the president.
The power to impeach the president is granted to the House of Representatives in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The House has the “sole Power of Impeachment.” Once the House approves articles of impeachment, the process moves to a trial in the Senate. Convicting and removing the president requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.
So in summary, a simple majority vote is required in the House to impeach the president. But impeaching in the House alone does not remove the president from office. That would require being convicted at a Senate trial by a two-thirds vote.
Constitutional Requirements for Impeachment
The Constitution lays out the impeachment process in just a few sentences in Article I, Section 2 and 3. It states:
“The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.”
So the House has the power to impeach with a simple majority vote. The Senate then conducts a trial and can convict and remove from office with a two-thirds supermajority vote. This high bar was meant as a check on quick removal of presidents without broad support.
What is Impeachment?
Impeachment is the process of bringing charges against a civil officer, in this case the president, for misconduct. It’s essentially an indictment in the House against the president. The Constitution specifies “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” as the grounds for impeachment.
If a simple majority of the House approves articles of impeachment, the president is technically impeached. But impeachment itself does not remove the president from office. It simply refers the process to the Senate for a trial.
Conviction in the Senate
After being impeached in the House, the president faces a trial in the Senate. A team of House members, called managers, act as the prosecutors making the case against the president. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the trial. The president can choose lawyers to present a defense.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the Senate votes. If at least two-thirds of the Senators present find the president guilty, then he or she is removed from office. The Senate could also hold a separate vote on prohibiting the president from holding any public office in the future after being removed.
So in summary, the House votes to impeach with a simple majority. But removal requires a two-thirds Senate vote to convict on the articles of impeachment.
History of Presidential Impeachments
There have been three presidential impeachment proceedings in United States history. No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Let’s look at the three instances:
Andrew Johnson Impeachment
In 1868, the House voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson. Johnson had been clashing with the Republican-controlled Congress over Reconstruction policies after the Civil War. The House charged Johnson with violating the Tenure of Office Act by removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from office without Senate approval. The House voted 11 articles of impeachment.
The trial was held in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding. In the end, the Senate voted 35-19 in favor of conviction on three of the 11 articles, falling short of the two-thirds majority by a single vote. Johnson remained in office.
Richard Nixon Impeachment
In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. The charges related to Nixon’s involvement in covering up the Watergate break-in scandal through obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Before the full House could vote, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
Bill Clinton Impeachment
In 1998, the House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on two charges. The first was perjury for lying under oath about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The second was obstruction of justice relating to his efforts to cover up that relationship during a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton. The House votes were 228-206 and 221-212, largely along party lines.
The trial in the Senate lasted five weeks. Senators eventually voted to acquit Clinton on both charges, falling well short of the two-thirds majority required for removal. The perjury charge failed 45-55 and the obstruction charge failed 50-50, with Republicans comprising the majority of the votes to convict on both counts.
The Impeachment Process Step-by-Step
Here is an overview of the complete impeachment process from start to finish:
- An official impeachment inquiry is launched in the House Judiciary Committee.
- The House Judiciary Committee holds hearings, conducts an investigation, and drafts articles of impeachment.
- The House Judiciary Committee votes on the articles of impeachment and reports them to the full House.
- The full House debates and votes on the articles of impeachment.
- If a simple majority votes in favor, the president is impeached.
- The proceedings move to a trial in the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding.
- A team of House members manage the case against the president.
- The president can choose defense lawyers who present a response.
- After hearing both sides, the Senate debates the case and votes on conviction on each article.
- A two-thirds majority is required to convict and remove the president from office.
As noted earlier, both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House but acquitted in their Senate trials. Richard Nixon resigned before the House could vote on his articles of impeachment.
How Many Votes Are Currently Needed in the House and Senate?
Based on the current party breakdowns, here are how many votes would be needed today in the House and Senate:
House of Representatives
- Total members: 435
- Democrats: 222
- Republicans: 213
- Simple majority required to impeach: 218 votes
Since Democrats hold the House majority, they could impeach the president with no Republican votes.
- Total members: 100
- Democrats: 50
- Republicans: 50
- Two-thirds majority required to convict and remove: 67 votes
In the current 50-50 Senate, Democrats would need 17 Republicans to vote in favor of convicting the president in order to obtain the 67 votes required for removal.
Why a Simple Majority Votes to Impeach but Two-Thirds to Convict
The Framers of the Constitution made it more difficult for the Senate to convict and remove a president than for the House to impeach. This higher vote threshold was intended to prevent partisan impeachments with little merit and build broader consensus behind removing a president from office.
In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton warned of the dangers of politically driven impeachments, writing:
“A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
Hamilton and other Founders argued the Supreme Court should preside over presidential impeachments. But the Constitution instead grants this power to the Senate, with the added requirement of a two-thirds vote helping to raise the bar for conviction.
Party Breakdown of Impeachment Votes
Every presidential impeachment proceeding in U.S. history has been highly partisan. Here is the party breakdown for each vote:
Andrew Johnson Impeachment
- House votes to impeach: 126-47 (Republicans 92-0, Democrats 34-45)
- Senate votes to convict: 35-19 (Republicans 27-6, Democrats 8-12)
Richard Nixon Impeachment
- House Judiciary Committee votes for impeachment: 21-17 (Republicans 6-10, Democrats 15-3)
Bill Clinton Impeachment
- House votes to impeach: 228-206 and 221-212 (Republicans voting for both articles)
- Senate votes against conviction: 45-55 and 50-50 (Republicans mostly voting to convict)
This history shows that for modern presidential impeachments, the opposition party has voted overwhelmingly in favor, while the president’s own party votes to acquit. The higher threshold in the Senate makes bipartisan consensus essential to removal.
Public Opinion During Impeachments
Impeaching and removing a sitting president is rare in U.S. history in part because it is rarely popular in public opinion polling. However, public support for impeachment tends to be higher for a convicted House vote than a Senate removal.
Here were public opinion poll averages near key impeachment votes:
|President||Public Support for Impeachment||Public Support for Removal|
|Richard Nixon||58% (after House Judiciary Committee approved articles)||46%|
As these numbers show, the public is typically more open to impeachment than removal. High levels of public support likely encourage members of Congress to vote for impeachment, while low support contributes to acquittal votes in the Senate.
Consequences of Impeachment and Removal
Only two U.S. presidents have ever been impeached, and none have been removed from office through conviction in the Senate. However, impeachment still has serious consequences for a president:
- Impeachment leads to a Senate trial, requiring significant time and attention from the president and Congress.
- The stigma of impeachment taints a president’s legacy and public standing regardless of conviction.
- Impeachment motivates the opposition party’s base ahead of the next election.
- An impeached but acquitted president loses direct political leverage over Congress.
And of course, actual removal would immediately make the vice president the new president of the United States.
Impeaching a president is meant to be difficult and requires broad bipartisan consensus. While only a simple majority is needed in the House to impeach, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove a president from office. This high bar promotes stability and prevents removal over minor partisan disagreements. But when misconduct is egregious and accepted across party lines, the impeachment process serves its role as a Constitutional check on presidential power.