What does impeachment mean? Republicans announce inquiry into Joe Biden

 (Nhac Nguyen / AFP via Getty Images)
(Nhac Nguyen / AFP via Getty Images)

House Republicans have confirmed they’re opening a formal impeachment inquiry into US President Joe Biden.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, who some have implied is being held hostage by ‘extreme’ ranks of the Republican party, announced plans to investigate allegations of ‘abuse of power’.

Republicans suggested, without evidence, that Biden profited from his son Hunter Biden’s foreign business projects when he served as vice president between 2009 to 2017.

The news has quickly earned condemnation from Democrat ranks, and a White House spokesperson has said the investigation — which has already been going on for nine months — has “turned up no evidence of wrongdoing”.

US presidents can be removed from office following impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”. The announcement comes more than two years after Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was impeached for a second time for “inciting an insurrection”.

It’s unlikely that Biden will be removed from office even if impeachment proceedings move forward. However, let’s take a look at what impeachment means and what happens next amid the fifth impeachment of a US president in history.

What is impeachment?

 (Alex Brandon / AP)
(Alex Brandon / AP)

Impeachment is the US Constitution’s ultimate remedy for high crimes and misdemeanours.

It is a process by which charges are brought in the US Congress which will form the basis of a trial in the Senate.

The process is a political one, rather than criminal.

Will Joe Biden be impeached?

Kevin McCarthy has announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. He did this without a formal vote, suggesting that there was scant support for the investigation even among his own ranks.

It also marked an apparent U-turn by the House Speaker, who had previously slammed Nancy Pelosi for launching a similar probe into Donald Trump without a floor vote.

However, it’s unlikely that the impeachment will lead to Biden’s removal from office.

The process of achieving an impeachment is also likely to face considerable pushback. The House of Republicans first need to achieve a majority vote in favour of the impeachment, however, they hold a very slim majority, and some centrist representatives may want to distance themselves from the extreme-right politicians who are pushing for impeachment.

It would then also need to pass a Senate trial and vote, where it would almost certainly fail because the Democrats hold a majority.

Why was Donald Trump impeached?

 (Scott Olson / Getty Images)
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The 45th President of the United States was investigated and subsequently impeached for abusing the power of his office by enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election. Trump was believed to have pressured a foreign leader to dig for dirt on his opponent.

He was then impeached a second time in 2021 for his role in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol but was acquitted by the Senate.

Will Joe Biden have to leave the White House?

Just like his predecessor, it’s unlikely that the impeachment proceedings will mean Biden leaves the White House.

Democrats currently hold the majority in the senate chamber. In order to impeach a president and have him actually removed from office, the Senate would need to vote a two-thirds majority in favor of the proceedings.

What happens next?

For now, McCarthy has merely announced plans to launch an impeachment inquiry. He has reportedly asked Republican Representative James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to lead it.

It’s worth noting, however, that House Republicans have been investigating Biden since January and haven’t found any concrete evidence of misconduct.

If subsequent investigations believe there’s proof of wrongdoing, then articles of impeachment would be drawn up against Joe Biden.

These articles would need to receive a majority vote on the House floor in order for Biden to be impeached. It would then go to the Senate where a two-thirds majority is needed for the impeachment and removal of office to actually happen.

As for Trump, it looks like he’s facing even more legal peril than when he was in office. Despite being acquitted of impeachment proceedings, he now faces mounting legal battles as he gears up to run for the US presidency in 2024. He’s been criminally indicted four times and will face several trials in the coming year.

Have any other US presidents been impeached?

Prior to Biden, three US presidents have been impeached.

These were Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump — the latter was impeached twice in a historical first.

In 1868, Mr Johnson faced a number of allegations, including a charge that he dismissed his secretary of war against the wishes of Congress. The Democrat narrowly survived his impeachment trial, with the two-thirds majority required to convict him being missed by just one vote.

 (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Mr Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 will be fresh in the minds of many. The Democratic president was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice when it was alleged he lied about the nature of his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, and then also asked her to lie about it.

The vote for a conviction fell far short of the two-thirds majority required in 1999.

Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal in 1974 before he could be impeached.