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What Does Impeachment Actually Mean? The Process Is Complicated

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You've likely seen quite a few articles, blogs, and social media posts talking about the word "impeachment" recently. The word is being used as a sort of catch-all phrase these days. And while the concept of impeachment when it concerns President Donald Trump may seem like an easy way out of this presidency, the actual process and ramifications of such an action would require a lot more than just some sort of one and done trial. So, what does impeachment actually mean? And if it's invoked, will Trump be automatically booted from office? Understandably, the short answer to those questions is a resounding no.

Per Article II of the United States Constitution, impeachment can only happen for one (or more) of three reasons. "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." But while defining what constitutes those "high crimes and misdemeanors" may be on many minds these days, that's not the only question Americans should be asking.

Impeachment, in it's most literal sense, is defined as follows: "To bring an accusation against; to charge with a crime or misdemeanor; specifically: to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office; to remove from office especially for misconduct." But the impeachment process in itself is complicated, time-consuming, and relies heavily on Republican members of Congress turning against their leader.

While the term "impeachment" may be seen like the ultimate end for President Trump, in actuality, a call for impeachment would lead to an impeachment process, something that has never been fully carried out in the history of the United States presidency. Yes, impeachment proceedings have occurred, with Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton, but neither case was completed in the Senate (both were acquitted on all charges). And Richard Nixon resigned before his impeachment process could start.

Basically, in order for the impeachment process to actually come full circle and for the president to be removed from office, the House of Representatives has to have a majority consensus on the matter. But that's not all. Impeachment also means that a trial has to take place in the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (currently Chief Justice John Roberts), in which the president is found guilty in a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate.

While no president has ever been through the entire impeachment process, the best estimates on how long it could take come in at around three to six months. But in order for that to happen, there has to be agreement from both sides of the aisle — Republicans and Democrats — that Trump is not fit to serve in the office of the presidency, and that he has indeed committed treason, bribery, or another high crime.

And while, as you're reading this article, members of Congress are indeed debating and considering impeachment, Republicans would have to take a stand against their president, and their party in full force. As NPR puts it, "It is highly unlikely — almost zero chance — that Trump would be impeached by a Republican Congress." So, while the resistance definitely has more momentum and hope than it's had in a while, impeachment doesn't happen overnight, and it's (unfortunately) not a magic wand that can be waved over the White House to force Trump out.