What vote is needed to impeach a house?

Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body levels charges against a government official. It does not mean removal from office; it is only a statement of charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law. Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction by a legislative vote, which then entails removal from office. Because impeachment and conviction of officials involve their removal from office, they have naturally resulted in power struggles in many nations.

What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body formally levels charges against a high official of government. Impeachment does not necessarily mean removal from office; it is only a formal statement of charges, akin to an indictment in criminal law. Once an individual has been impeached, he or she must then face the possibility of conviction via legislative vote.

In the United States, for example, impeachment at the federal level is reserved for those who may have committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”. While the Constitution’s framers initially considered adding maladministration as a ground for impeachment, they ultimately chose to limit it to criminal acts for fear that impeachment would otherwise be subject to partisan abuse. The move to impeach may start with an individual citizen, who files a complaint with a member of the House of Representatives. A congressperson may then introduce a resolution calling for impeachment. The resolution and charges are then referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The committee reviews evidence, determines if there are sufficient grounds for impeachment, and drafts articles of impeachment. Those articles are then reported to the full House. If a majority votes in favor, the House appoints members to manage the impeachment case before the Senate.

The Senate has the power to try the case and determine innocence or guilt. During an impeachment trial, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote. If convicted, the official is immediately removed from office. In some cases, the Senate has also disqualified such individuals from holding public office in the future. There is no appeal from a Senate conviction. However, a convicted official can ask for a Presidential pardon. So impeachment does not necessarily lead to permanent removal from office or public life. The House can still decide to drop the charges at any point up until the Senate conviction vote.

What constitutes an impeachable offense?

The U.S. Constitution defines impeachable offenses as “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

Treason is defined very narrowly in the Constitution as making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. It requires active participation in a war or violent rebellion against the United States.

Bribery involves offering, soliciting, or accepting money or favors in exchange for influence or actions in an official capacity. Bribery does not require completion of the quid pro quo – the mere offer or solicitation is enough.

High crimes and misdemeanors is less defined. It covers abuses of the public trust or positional power. Offenses by officials that undermine the integrity of the processes of government are considered impeachable. Exactly what constitutes an impeachable offense is debated. Gerald Ford famously stated, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Some common examples of “high crimes and misdemeanors” cited in impeachment proceedings:

– Perjury of oath of office
– Abuse of authority
– Intimidation
– Misuse of assets or funds
– Failure to supervise, control, or report
– Conduct unbecoming the position
– Maladministration
– Gross incompetence
– Tax evasion
– Violation of public trust

So impeachable offenses do not have to be specific criminal acts. Generally speaking, they are serious abuses of power or ethical violations related to an official’s duties or that undermine that person’s fitness to serve.

What is the impeachment process?

The impeachment process has several stages:

1. Initiating an inquiry

The House Judiciary Committee decides whether to initiate an impeachment inquiry. This usually begins with an accusation brought to the committee by an individual House member.

The committee investigates the validity of the accusations. If they find sufficient grounds, they will define specific charges and recommend them to the full House.

2. House vote on charges

If the House Judiciary Committee believes impeachment is called for, they will draft and vote on articles of impeachment. These specify the charges against the official.

If a majority of the House votes to approve at least one article, then impeachment is considered successful and the process moves to a trial.

3. Senate trial

A trial is held in the Senate with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. A committee of House members presents the case against the impeached official to the Senate.

The Senate then votes on each article of impeachment – a 2/3 majority is required to convict on any article. This means 67 Senators would need to vote for conviction.

4. Removal from office

If the official is convicted on any article, they are immediately removed from office. They may also be barred from holding future federal offices.

5. Other consequences

Conviction does not bar additional legal consequences outside Congress after removal. The individual may face criminal prosecution or other penalties if the charges include violation of statutory laws.

How many votes are required to impeach a President?

A simple majority vote is required in the House to impeach a sitting United States President. This means 218 votes, if all 435 House members are voting and a quorum is present.

If a simple majority votes to approve at least one article of impeachment, the President is impeached. The process then moves forward to a trial in the Senate.

A two-thirds supermajority is required to convict and remove a President in the Senate phase of the process. 67 Senators need to vote in favor of conviction on at least one article of impeachment to remove a President from office.

History of Impeachment

Only three presidents have faced impeachment inquiries, and none have been both impeached and removed from office. Let’s look at the history:

Andrew Johnson (1868)

The first presidential impeachment was Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson took office after Lincoln’s assassination and immediately clashed with radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction policies.

When he dismissed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, the House responded by approving 11 articles of impeachment. The primary charges centered around Johnson’s violation of the Tenure of Office Act, which was later repealed.

The Senate acquitted Johnson on all charges by a single vote – the two-thirds majority was missed by one vote. He remained in office but did not run for reelection.

Richard Nixon (1974)

Over a century later, Richard Nixon faced near certain impeachment and removal from office over the Watergate break-in and coverup. The Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment related to obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.

Before a full House vote, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release damning tapes related to Watergate. Once released, there was little doubt the House would impeach and the Senate would convict.

Nixon resigned the Presidency in disgrace before the process finished. He was later pardoned by Gerald Ford, his Vice President and successor.

Bill Clinton (1998)

In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on 2 charges – one perjury, the other obstruction of justice – related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Senate acquitted him on both counts as neither received the 67 votes required to convict and remove him from office.

While Clinton remained in office, he was later cited for contempt of court by a federal judge and agreed to a five-year suspension of his law license.

Donald Trump (2019-2021)

In December 2019, Donald Trump was impeached by the House on 2 articles – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. This relates to soliciting foreign interference from Ukraine in the 2020 election and obstructing the Congressional inquiry.

The Senate acquitted Trump on both charges in February 2020. In 2021, the House again impeached Trump on “incitement of insurrection” charges related to the January 6th Capitol riot. He was acquitted by the Senate in his second impeachment trial as well after leaving office.


Impeachment remains a rarely used maneuver in American politics. It is fraught with partisan disagreement. While a tool to hold Presidents accountable, the high barrier to achieve a Senate conviction limits its effectiveness.

No President has been both impeached by the House and then convicted and removed by the Senate. However, the specter of impeachment still looms large over controversial Presidencies, as both a threat and a form of political messaging. The inherent subjectivity involved in defining “high crimes and misdemeanors” will ensure partisan battles over impeachment continue.

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