In order for a person to be impeached, votes need to be held in both the House and the Senate. A majority is required in the House, and a supermajority is required in the Senate.

There are 435 people in the House and 100 people in the Senate (67 are needed for a supermajority).

In other words, if all 435 people of the House vote to impeach, and 66 people of the Senate vote to impeach, that's 501 people out of the 535 leaders of the nation voting to impeach, or almost 94 %, and yet, that vote would actually result in no impeachment since 66 senate votes is not a supermajority.

What is the logic behind this system?

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    I think this is a useful question, but could benefit from rewording at least the last sentence.
    – Deolater
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 20:53
  • Answers could benefit by referring to the debates over whether and how to include an impeachment mechanism during the drafting of the Constitution... Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 22:08
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    This is also logic that could be implied to any vote requiring a supermajority in the senate.
    – spmoose
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 4:11

3 Answers 3


Impeachment in the United States is not like a simple vote of no-confidence like in other countries. The Constitution provides for impeachment only for "High crimes and misdemeanors" committed by public officials. So although it is a political process, the Constitution deliberately sets a high bar that rises to the point of criminality in order to remove a public official from office.

In other words, a public official must have committed an impeachable offense in order to remove them from office. You cannot simply unseat them for mere political reasons. Exactly what constitutes an "impeachable offense" has never been specifically defined, but being despised by the opposition party is definitely not one of them.

The idea behind this is twofold: Firstly, the co-equal branches of government are supposed to provide checks and balances upon one another so that a relatively broad base of consensus among politicians is required to function. And secondly, politicians' limited terms, with their offset election cycles, is supposed to ensure that bad things done in one cycle can be undone in another cycle if they're so politically unpopular. Basically, a bad president is supposed to be prevented from doing bad things by the other two branches, and if bad things do happen, you only have to live with it for a couple of years. All this is part of the normal political process.

To bring this back to Trump (which is why impeachment is such a hot topic right now), the United States is currently living in a state of unprecedented division between the political left and the political right. If the Left is correct, and Trump actually did commit the treason, collusion, and obstruction of justice that he is accused of, then that is an impeachable offense and he should be impeached for it. However, if the Right is correct, and all these accusations are a witch hunt from a party suffering from the throes of Trump Derangement Syndrome, then he should not be impeached. If Trump is such a terrible president, then that's what elections are for.

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    I haven't seen any credible claim that the president has done anything constituting treason. There have been some hyperbolic claims of that, and possibly serious claims by people who don't know what treason actually is, but those sorts of claim are not particularly credible.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 22:44
  • @phoog: Per the US Constitution, "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Even if it was proven that Trump collaborated with the Russians, is Russia an "enemy" in the Constitutional sense, absent a declaration of war? OTOH, does a misdemeanor in the Constitutional sense have to be one in the criminal sense? Or can it just be behaviour inappropriate to the office, e.g. shutting down the government because Congress refuses to fund your vanity project?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 4:51
  • @jamesqf it's pretty well established that criminal treason requires a state of war or at least armed hostilities. It's also widely acknowledged that because the courts won't review impeachment proceedings, "other high crimes and misdemeanors" means whatever a majority of the House and two thirds of the Senate want it to mean.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 19, 2019 at 5:28

Voting to pass Articles of Impeachment and voting to convict an impeached official are not voting on the same thing. The House is voting on whether the alleged action is worthy of impeachment, and whether there is sufficient evidence to move impeach the official - you can think of as something like a Grand Jury. On the other hand, the trial held in the Senate has the purpose of determining whether the Senators (acting as the Petit Jury) believe that the person impeached actually committed the impeachable offense and that the offense was in fact severe enough to be worthy of removing the official from office.

Although the accused is not entitled to the normal due process of a criminal trial because they are not facing criminal penalties from the result of an impeachment, the basic process does retain some of the ideas of due process that exist in the criminal process. The prosecution have to present their evidence of probable cause to a simple majority before someone is impeached, but then the accused has the ability to defend themselves and the prosecution must convince a supermajority of jurors of the accused's guilt.


The logic is that Super Majorities of a single Party are extremely rare in legislatures, and that means that a number of people with different views and perspectives would need to be convinced that this was the right move. It's vitally important that those who would be in political agreement with the President also recognize that what he did is a disgrace to the office.

Additionally, your math is assuming that the votes happen simultaneously, which they don't. The Senate will have a hearing that's basically run like a trial and go through the charges and see if the president is guilty of them and debate if that warrents his removal from office. But either way, the motion has to come from the House, which is easier to replace, and the President's supporters will vote to replace if their guy votes in favor. The Senate, which isn't on a universal re-election schedule (one third is up for election every 2 years, and serve six year terms) so they have a little more leeway. Since 2/3rds aren't looking for re-elections for another 4-6 years at most, they aren't nearly as influenced by their constituents in the following year and can look more critically to the facts than the House, who looks at the political winds more closely.

The concept of requiring the high threshhold is to make impeaching the president a very difficult task because it will throw the nation into turmoil and cast doubt on both sides. In 200+ years of history, two have only made it to the senate and none have been successful, though the first one was decided by one vote in the Senate... by a member of the opposition party to the President. He felt the impeachment was being used in too political a fashion and that it would do more harm than good to oust the President.

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    The logic behind the impeachment rules has nothing to do with parties. The Constitution was written when people were thinking that political parties were bad things to be avoided. Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 21:56
  • @DavidThornley: Yes, but Impeachment of President was first used after Party introduction and even then, they didn't like parties but they were familiar with them and more importantly, wanted to incentivize that this needed to be an overwhelming agreement by people who had all sorts of political views and discourage its use against a president that Congress didn't agree with.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 22:06
  • The senate process is not only "basically run like a trial"; it is also called a trial (or, at least, the verb used in the constitution for such a process is "try").
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 18, 2019 at 22:39

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