How to Impeach a President

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What should happen if the president has “rendered himself obnoxious”?

That is the question Benjamin Franklin posed when the Founding Fathers were debating the intricacies of setting up a brand new government in America. Because most countries at the time did not have elected leaders and so no means of deposing them, they turned to a provision of the British common law known as “impeachment.” The measure could be brought against any citizen, and could result in any punishment—following a trial—including death.

The American version delineates three offenses for which officials can be impeached: treason, bribery and the more ambiguous high crimes and other misdemeanors. All are considered serious infringement against the state and constitute a breach of trust. But for three US presidents to face the challenge—Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—the impeachment process focused on that final category.

Any member of the US House of Representatives can file an impeachment motion, but because the process is multi-faceted and requires majority votes from the House Judiciary Committee, Congress and a Senate jury, most of them end up going nowhere.

No president in history has been removed from office through the impeachment process. While Bill Clinton was exonerated by the Senate trial, having retained his popular and party support throughout, Richard Nixon stepped down before the House could vote. What these cases from different moments in history show is that the accusations against an acting president have to be serious enough to garner bipartisan support, meaning a loss of your party loyalty.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: BenThomasPhoto

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