UPSC MAINS 2020: US President Impeachment

Topic : US President Impeachment

Topic in Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2: International Affairs

Context:

US House of Representatives Speaker announced that the House would launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, over his alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s potential rival in the 2020 elections.

 

Background:

  • No US President has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment.
  • The House did impeach two Presidents — Andrew Johnson (1968) and Bill Clinton (1998) — but the Senate did not convict them.

Meaning of Impeachment:

  • Impeachment is a provision that allows Congress to remove the President of the United States.
  • Under the US Constitution, the House of Representatives (Lower House) has the “the sole power of impeachment” while the Senate (Upper House) has “the sole power to try all impeachments”.
  • The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court has the duty of presiding over impeachment trials in the Senate.

 

Grounds for Impeachment:

  • The President can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”.
  • Essentially, it means an abuse of power by a high-level public official. This does not necessarily have to be a violation of an ordinary criminal statute.
  • Historically, in the US, it has encompassed corruption and other abuses, including trying to obstruct judicial proceedings.

 

Impeachment Process:

 

HOUSE VOTE: It begins with an investigation by a House committee. In Trump’s case, six committees are investigating him on impeachable offences. If they find that there is enough evidence of wrongdoing, it will refer the matter to the full House. When the full House votes, if one or more of the articles of impeachment gets a majority vote, the President is impeached.

 

SENATE TRIAL & VOTE: The Senate holds a trial, overseen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. A team of lawmakers from the House, known as managers, play the role of prosecutors. The President has defence lawyers, and the Senate serves as the jury. If at least two-thirds of the Senators present find the President guilty, he is removed and the Vice President takes over as President.

Sample Question:

How can an Indian President be impeached? (150 words)