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If Congress really needs to and wants to remove a president from office, is there any speculation on how quickly it could be done? I assume there is such urgency that there is no opposition in the House Judiciary Committee, the House itself and the Senate. I know there is supposed be a trial in the Senate, but I'm not sure they even have to do it.

I've often wondered if the mechanics of the process can be done in one day or even less time.

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To get a rough estimate for how long a presidential impeachment would take, we could look at the most recent attempt at doing so, the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

The following dates are from this Guardian article about the timeline of the impeachment and the Wikipedia article about the impeachment. I intentionally left out a lot of details and events which were specific to the Bill Clinton case and only focused on the procedural milestones.

  • October 5th 1998: The House Judiciary Committee votes to launch a congressional impeachment inquiry against President Clinton.
  • October 8th 1998: The House of Representatives vote for impeachment proceedings to begin, which gives the House Judiciary committee permission to draw up detailed charges.
  • December 11th, 1998: The House Judiciary Committee approves the articles of impeachment, passing them to the full House of Representatives.
  • December 19th, 1998: The House votes and approves the articles of impeachment. Mr Clinton is sent for trial in the Senate.
  • January 7th, 1999: The Senate formally begins the impeachment trial.
  • February 12th 1999: The senate votes and acquits Clinton. If they had voted to convict, Bill Clinton's presidency would have ended at that moment and that of Al Gore would have begun.

So in this case the complete time between the impeachment inquiry and the final vote which decided whether or not the president gets removed from office was a little over 4 months.

Would it be possible to do it quicker? In theory, maybe. But in practice we could expect that another presidential impeachment will take about as long. Why?

  • Presidential impeachment is not a routine process. That means there will be questions about the procedure which need to be debated first. You wouldn't want the Supreme Court to declare the whole thing void because of some formal mistake.
  • No impeachment will ever be completely uncontroversial. All the evidence must be properly examined and debated. There will be representatives who will debate for the president being innocent, no matter how clear the evidence.
  • People on both sides of the issue will want to use it as an opportunity for indirect political gain. They will want to get some public screentime out of it to improve their own political standing or gain opportunities to attack political opponents. That will draw out the proceedings.
  • It won't happen in a political vacuum. There will be other things on the political agenda which will require the attention of house and senate.
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    Compared to (say) a criminal trial for perjury in a "regular" court, four months is extremely fast. – Kevin Mar 5 '19 at 7:12
  • The last point is somewhat mitigated by the fact that Senate rules actually impose requirements on how often impeachment is on the agenda and how often it is addressed in a week and what your attendance for all this must be (perfect) if you want to vote. So in fact a large fraction of the non-impeachment agenda of the Senate will be put on hold as a matter of necessity, short of changing the rules. But they are not required to only deal with the trial until it concludes, so, yes, there's some competition with other matters needing immediate attention. – zibadawa timmy Nov 22 '19 at 19:37
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I know there is supposed be a trial in the Senate, but I'm not sure they even have to do it. I've often wondered if the mechanics of the process can be done in one day or even less time.

Under Nixon v. United States (no, not that Nixon), the Senate can do whatever it wants as long as it complies with the basic requirements set out in the Constitution, which are:

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

In short: Senators have to take an "oath or affirmation," they have to let the Chief Justice preside (when trying the President specifically), they have to have a two-thirds supermajority to convict, and they can't impose penalties beyond removal and disqualification from office (but regular law enforcement can prosecute further). There is no requirement that they deliberate for any particular length of time, nor that they conduct the trial in any particular fashion. They could simply read the articles of impeachment once, and immediately vote on them.

So much for the Constitution. But the Senate is not just making things up as they go. They will follow the Senate rules when conducting a trial, which are quite extensive (document is from the 101st Congress, 1992; I don't know if a newer version exists). In principle, the Senate could change the rules by a simple majority to remove all of these procedures and convert it into an up-down vote with no actual trial. In practice, there is no chance of that happening unless the President is revealed to be a pod person from Mars.

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There does need to be a trial in the Senate, impeachment does not remove the President, only conviction in a Senate trial can do that.

There is no lower limit set on the time scale for running an impeachment vote and trial. We can't say that it is impossible for the whole process to be completed in a day. But several considerations make that very unlikely. It would require near universal agreement among the Members of Congress to impeach and convict, and a determination to do so despite it being contrary to political norms and the principles of natural Justice. It would also require the president to offer no defence, or not be granted any time to present their defence.

In cases of sudden emergency, insanity, or another inability to act as President, there are other constitutional mechanisms to allow the president to be removed from office without going through the impeachment processes.

So while there is no constitutional reason why the process cannot be very short, in practice it would take many weeks (at least) to go through all the steps of impeachment.

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