You probably already know what it means to be fired from a job. If a boss doesn’t think an employee is doing a good job, the employee has to leave the company. But what happens when that employee is a government official who was elected by the people? Presidents, vice presidents, federal judges and others don’t just get fired: they get impeached.
Only two presidents have been impeached, and the first one was 150 years ago this month. In February 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached because he had fired someone whom it was illegal for him to fire. In 1998, Bill Clinton was impeached after lying to the public about something he had done. Richard Nixon came close to being impeached in 1974 after trying to sabotage his political opponents. But before the vote came, he resigned as president. Nixon is the only person to ever quit his job as president.
It’s not easy to impeach someone. First of all, the person has to do something very bad, such as bribery (giving or taking money in exchange for political favors), treason (putting the government or country at great risk) or something else that’s not just illegal but damaging to the people. If the person is caught, the first step toward impeachment is that the House of Representatives has to issue a formal accusation. A majority of the representatives have to vote in favor to impeach a president, and then the Senate puts the person on trial in the Supreme Court and votes on whether impeachment is the right decision. If the Senate believes the person is guilty, the person is removed from office. Interestingly, neither president who was impeached by the House was also convicted by the Senate, so both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton got to keep their jobs. However, several other elected officials, like judges, have been impeached and had to leave their jobs.
Activity: Test your knowledge
The impeachment process involves all three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. Match these terms and people with their definitions and jobs.
1. John Glover Roberts Jr.
2. Executive branch of government
3. Paul Ryan
4. Rex Tillerson
5. Legislative branch of government
6. Mike Pence
7. Judicial branch of government
a. The president
b. The vice president
c. The House of Representatives and the Senate
d. The speaker of the House
e. The chief justice of the Supreme Court
f. The United States secretary of state
g. The Supreme Court
Answers: 1, e; 2, a; 3, d; 4, f; 5, c; 6, b; 7, g