For some reason, people do not seem to understand what this is. I was in a political discussion the other day. We (the people I was chatting with and I) were discussing the economy and the war, and one of the people that I was talking to raised the idea of impeaching the president for his misrepresentations (not to say lies) that got us involved in the war.
"What," responded another of the people in the discussion. "are we going to impeach every president now?"
The impeachment proponent looked at the speaker and looked dumb-struck. "What do you mean? We haven't impeached anyone since Nixon!"
"Nixon wasn't impeached," I said, "he quit before articles were brought."
"Nixon was impeached." the person who started the subject responded.
The confusion here seems to be that the process is misunderstood. First off, the removal of a president from office is not impeachment. Impeachment is the official bringing of charges against the sitting head of the administration. (Or, I suppose any other elected official, but we're talking about presidential impeachment here...)
The US has impeached two presidents both have remained in office as the Senate has failed to find the president guilty of the charges brought. If you wish, think of Impeachment as an Indictment of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. (Indictment is not Conviction.) Once indicted, the president stands trial in the Senate. It is only on their vote that the president is removed from office.
In the United States, the articles of impeachment - or charges against the president for which he could possibly be removed from office - are brought in the House of Representatives. Once the articles of impeachment have passed, the president is tried by the Senate on those charges. A majority of the Senate finding the president guilty, will force the president from power and place the Vice President in power.
For this reason, the Vice President does not preside over Impeachment trials and does not cast votes. (the Vice President as the head of the Senate, casts the deciding vote on any ties of a purely legislative nature.) The proceedings are, instead, officiated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Now, the thing about Nixon was that as the details of the Watergate affair were coming to light, Impeachment Articles were being discussed and debated in the House, but rather than allow them to go to term, and sensing the way the wind was blowing (not to say sensing people knew he was guilty of the charges he could have been removed from office on) Nixon resigned and handed the presidency to Ford rather than face involuntary removal from office. But, and this is an important but, Nixon was never impeached as the articles of impeachment never came to a vote.
The last president to be impeached was William Jefferson Clinton. He was impeached on charges of perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice charges. He just barely squeaked by, as the final vote in the Senate was a tied 50/50 vote. Having no majority, Clinton was not removed from office.
Before president Clinton, the last (and only other) president impeached, was Andrew Johnson. He was impeached on charges of violating the Tenure of Office act, an act he vetoed but was overturned on. The act forbade him from removing political appointees prior to the expiration of their tenure. He was not removed from office either.
There are currently articles of impeachment being discussed in the House against the president for his behaviour leading up-to the war, but I doubt that it will come to the floor for a vote before January. Should some miracle happen and the president be impeached and removed from office before his term expires, remember: The Vice President ascends to the presidency. Do you really want to live for any time (no matter how short) under president Cheney?
Be careful what you wish for!
Wherever you are today, I hope that you'll have a great day!
Don Bergquist - June 18, 2008 - Lakewood, Colorado, USA