There is this rather pervasive notion that to be impeached means to be removed from office—this is not the case. There needs to be a conviction in both houses of congress for removal. President Bill Clinton and President Andrew Johnson were impeached and in both cases, they were convicted in the House and acquitted by the Senate. This makes sense as to convict in the House, only a simple majority is needed: 218 votes, while a two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate: 67 votes. Additionally, many seem to believe Richard Nixon was removed from office through an impeachment conviction, but he resigned before there was a vote in the Senate.
As stated in Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. constitution,
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. While these three categories cast a rather wide net, for a conviction to occur, the crime or crimes need to be egregious and entirely non-partisan in their impact. This, as you may be thinking to yourself, given how concrete party allegiance is in this country, sounds impossible. It’s not impossible. But when the president’s party holds a majority in both houses, it’s close to impossible.
Currently, 25 republican members of the house (along with all democrats) would have to vote for removal to reach the simple majority of 218 and go on to the senate. To reach two-thirds majority there, 19 republican senators and the 48 dem senators would have to vote for removal.
What does all of this mean?
It means that to successfully remove a president from office through impeachment, one needs the people/voters on one’s side. And not just a simple majority; the antagonistic fervor needs to grow deafening. A partisan push like the one against Clinton won’t even make it through the house. Grand Old Partiers need to fear for their jobs and their legacies—there needs to be a seismic event that changes the tenor of the country.
Right now, President Trump’s approval rating is a rather dismal 40%. But those numbers are nowhere near dismal enough. Small leaks showing connections, possibilities and general misgivings will not be enough. Trump’s violations of the emoluments clause, his refusal to divest himself from his businesses, his use of the office to protect family brands, his propagandistic habits, his lies and his draconian immigration policies will not be enough. All of these things can get far worse, and it still won’t be enough.
The aforementioned Andrew Johnson, a former senator from Tenessee who assumed the presidency after Lincoln was assassinated, went against much of his own party and enacted a series of confederate-friendly laws, and later fired Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton in direct defiance of a law prohibiting him from doing so without senate approval. Johnson did what we wanted at every turn, with little disregard for his party or his job. And still, he was not removed from office as the senate was one vote shy of reaching a two-thirds majority.
Nixon was a different story. While he was never officially impeached because he resigned before a senatorial vote, he would’ve surely been removed from office had a vote occurred. The “Smoking Gun” tape proved that Nixon was in on the Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover-up. This ruined him publicly and politically. His administration became Hindenburgian, thus, jumping ship was no longer a risk, but a necessity.
As long as President Trump keeps meandering along this calamitous road, bombshell-free, impeachment will remain a pipe-dream.
And remember, it’s 2017: One man’s smoking gun is another man’s fake news.