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As I understand, the current vice president Mike Pence is next in line for the presidency should president Trump be removed from office. However, there's some links between Mike Pence and the Ukrainian "quid pro quo" issue, i.e., the underlying issue which has led to consideration of impeachment of president Trump (CNN).

Putting aside whether Pence has done things considered impeachable, I'm wondering if it's theoretically possible to pre-impeach him. (As opposed to first impeaching Trump, then instating Pence as president, then impeaching Pence.)

Question: Is it possible to impeach (pre-impeach?) US Vice President Pence first?

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    Impeachment is more common than you might think. Impeachment of the President has only happened a handful of times, but lots of lower level officials have been impeached throughout history and at least in some cases removed from office. (These cases don't get as much news coverage of course.) – Darrel Hoffman Nov 21 at 14:27
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    I think the title should have been left as it was, it showed the misunderstanding that Pickle Ricks's answer addresses as the impetus of the question. – rtpax Nov 21 at 15:57
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    There's an actual example in history. He wasn't technically impeached (he was forced to resign before it got to that), but see Spiro Agnew (podcast series on his story). – Denis de Bernardy Nov 21 at 17:59
  • @rtpax It's still part of the question, but clarifying the title should help other users with the same question find it. – Machavity Nov 21 at 20:38
  • @DarrelHoffman actually only one lower level officials has ever been impeached. Most impeached officials are federal judges who are officially co-equal with the President. – emory Nov 21 at 20:48
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I don't think "pre-impeach" is the right word because Congress has the power to impeach the VP or any other "civil officer", not just the president.

According to article 2 of the constitution, as stated by Wikipedia:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Since the Vice President can be impeached separately from the President, Congress could simply impeach him now directly instead of waiting for him to become President.

  • Welcome to the site Pickle Rick! I think you've got a good point here but your answer doesn't directly answer the question. Can you edit it to connect the dots for us? – thanby Nov 21 at 13:56
  • @Aaron I was thinking some kind of summary sentence at the end would be good, like "Therefore, since the Vice President can be impeached separately from the President, the House could simply impeach him now instead of waiting for him to become President." I don't want to edit because I'm not an expert here, just trying to apply SE methodology. – thanby Nov 21 at 15:08
  • I've tweaked the wording a tad. Yes, technically its the House that impeaches. However, it seems most likely the question was wondering about impeachment and removal (since the order of impeachments alone would make no difference), and the "removal" part requires the Senate. It would probably be better if the author clarified this further (as Justin's answer did). – T.E.D. Nov 21 at 16:12
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First off, a note on semantics. Impeachment and conviction are two separate steps. The House votes to impeach, the Senate votes to convict. Both President Andrew Johnson and President Clinton were impeached by the House. Neither was convicted by the Senate so both served out their term. Vice President Pence would become President Pence only if President Trump was impeached and convicted.

It is certainly possible to impeach and convict the vice president. So it would absolutely be possible to impeach and convict Pence and then impeach and convict Trump. For the Democrats, however, it would probably be a bad idea politically.

If Vice President Pence was removed, under the 25th amendment, President Trump would nominate a replacement that would have to be confirmed by both houses of Congress. Since the Republicans control the Senate while the Democrats control the House, the confirmation battle would be primarily in the House. In the House, neither of the options would be particularly palatable to the Democrats

  1. They can vote to confirm Trumps new nominee to the Vice Presidency. It is highly likely that the Democrats would oppose the nominee on ideological grounds at a minimum so that would be a tough pill to swallow. It would also likely delay the work of attempting to impeach Trump unless the House wanted to have the nomination hearings going on at the same time as the impeachment hearings. Having two such momentous hearings going on simultaneously would be tough to pull off and would pose a messaging challenge in the press to keep everything straight. From a calendar perspective, you'd also get pretty deep into at least the primaries for the 2020 election which would rob the Democratic candidates of coverage.
  2. They can decline to confirm a replacement and leave the office of Vice President vacant (either by not holding hearings or by voting down whoever Trump nominates). If they succeeded in removing Trump, however, this would cause the Speaker of the House to become Acting President. From a political standpoint, having the presidency change parties outside of an election but during the campaign because the House chose to impeach the Vice President, declined to confirm a successor, and then impeached the President would probably be disastrous. It is very easy for that to look like, if not a coup, at least very naked self interest (particularly since Pelosi herself is not particularly popular across the country). That would almost certainly not play well for independent voters in the 2020 election. The Democrats would have to hope that double impeachment and conviction would throw the Republican 2020 nomination process into utter chaos in order to make up for these downsides.
  • In the case of a vacancy in the Vice Presidency, if the Senate convicts and removes the President, the Speaker of the House does not become simply Acting President (like when the President is under general anesthesia). The Speaker actually becomes the new President of the United States, just like when Ford became President after Nixon's resignation, or LBJ after JFK's death. – David Nov 22 at 19:00
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    @David - I am not sure about that. The 25th amendment says that the "the Vice President shall become President" in the event that there is a presidential vacancy. Earlier, Articel 2 Section 1 says "Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected." which seems to imply that the Speaker would be Acting President. – Justin Cave Nov 22 at 19:15
  • @JustinCave Of course, there's also some debate over whether the Speaker of the House is actually an "officer", and therefore whether the law purporting to make the Speaker of the House President in that scenario actually complies with the amendment. – D M Nov 23 at 17:04
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With the exception that I think you mean impeach the Vice President... and have that impeachment upheld by the senate... sure, nothing stopping you from doing so, in theory.

As mentioned that'd leave the VP seat vacant. You could then impeach the President... and have that impeachment upheld by the senate... and thus have Pelosi in the White House. Again nothing stopping you from doing so, in theory.

(I don't see a way for the Senate to impeach both simultaneously even if they wanted to, but since they write their own rules I suppose they could do it.)

Now, the Senate is under Republican control and they wouldn't want Pelosi to be president. If Trump and Pence both did something even Senatorial Republicans considered impeachable, and the senators wanted to remove both, I don't think they'd agree to that exact chain of events though. Instead they'd probably agree to a more complicated deal with the House that would result in other Republicans to end up in the White House. This might be: impeach Trump; let Pence pick a VP both houses of Congress have already agreed to (e.g., Romney); then impeach Pence. Should Pence not agree, perhaps they'd agree to put Pelosi in office on the agreement she nominate Romney as VP then abdicate the presidency.

But impeachment isn't the only way to clear the path for Pelosi.

According to the president's lawyers, a president cannot even be investigated, much less indicted or tried, for anything, even murder.

The ramification is that if Pelosi simply shot Trump and Pence dead, she'd be president under the constitution, and thus couldn't be investigated while in office.

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    Were a Speaker to shoot the Pres/VP dead like that, they'd be impeached, tried, convicted, and then arrested that same day. – David Nov 22 at 19:05
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    @David But they would almost certainly have time to pardon themselves prior to the completion of the impeachment and removal. They couldn't prevent the impeachment and removal, but they could prevent the arrest. Of course, even if members of their own party blocked the impeachment and removal of such a rouge Speaker, it would be quite likely that they themselves would soon have people taking shots at them. – reirab Nov 22 at 22:23
  • @reirab it's an open question whether a president can pardon him or herself, with the balance of opinion seeming to be against the proposition. If it were first tested in a case such as this, the chance of the courts affirming the pardon would be considerably smaller than they already are. – phoog Nov 25 at 5:32
  • As to timing, assuming the VP is impeached and convicted first, another option would be for the senate to postpone the trial of the president's impeachment until after a new VP had been appointed and approved by congress. – phoog Nov 25 at 5:35
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    @David I think there would also be some turnover at the Secret Service. – emory Nov 25 at 20:43
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You would probably have to impeach the Vice President separately, and likely only once Trump was removed from office.

Let's say we find out that Pence is as guilty as Trump. While the House could impeach him at the same time, this path is harder politically. The third in line to be President is the Speaker of the House. That position is currently held by Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. As such, there would be an unavoidable partisan angle. Republicans would view it as a power grab and would almost certainly not remove one or both solely for that reason.

You could remove Pence first, but that's a harder sell without removing Trump. Trump was the one who made the call. Pence might very well have known about it, but that's a tall order to say he was culpable for it. The better case is to remove Trump, and then prove Pence knew about it all along and was complicit. In the meantime, Pence can nominate a new VP. It would be a slog through the Senate and the House, but with Senate confirmations now on a simple majority vote, it would likely go through (Democrats would probably cut a deal to install a new VP for removal) and reduce pressure on Republicans voting to remove Pence.

  • The house has to approve a new VP as well, not just the Senate. So that "slog"'s a lot harder than suggested. – dandavis Nov 21 at 21:38
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    @dandavis I forget about the house being part of the VP vote (confused it with SCOTUS). But the Democrats would have to choose between keeping Pence or letting a new Republican VP through. There's a near-zero chance Republicans would vote for something that created President Pelosi. – Machavity Nov 21 at 21:41
  • see electoral-vote.com/evp2019/Pres/Maps/Oct05.html, question starting with "Q: It looks like Mike Pence..." – dandavis Nov 21 at 21:47
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    @Machavity, the offense would have to be VERY serious and 100% proven for there to be a better than zero chance of getting two-thirds of the Senate to convict. – WGroleau Nov 22 at 3:14
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First, a reason to begin impeachment proceedings against Pence would have to exist, one that could withstand at least mild scrutiny.

The most recent example of this was Spiro Agnew, who was found to have received kickbacks from contractors while governor of Maryland. He was actually convicted on a charge of tax evasion for not declaring the payments.

Since those payments continued into his time as Vice President, therefore constituting tax evasion while VP, he was up for impeachment proceedings, when he resigned the office.

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To date, no sitting Vice President has ever been impeached, on account of the role having very little in the way of actual duties the VPOTUS could fail to do. The closest to this crisis occuring did occur during the Nixon Administration, when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned (for matters unrelated to Watergate) leaving the position vacant as the likelyhood of Impeaching (and convicting) Nixon became a more political reality. The then Speaker of the House (a Democrat) realized he might not have the votes on articles of Impeachment to get charges to the senate with out Republican Support and that without the office of the Vice President filled, he was next in line of Nixon was convicted in the senate and that making such a move would make it look like a political coup (Nixon had won the previous election with 49 of the 51 states (D.C. gets votes in the Electoral College)). The Speaker discreetly pushed to get a replacement Vice President and told the White House he would use his party connections to ensure then Minority Sentate Leader Gerald Ford get confirmed by the Senate if Nixon Nominated him (Ford would become the only person to become U.S. President without having been elected to Vice President or President by the voters).

The entire period of time that the nation was lacking a Vice President during the Nixon Presidency lasted two weeks, so if in present political climate Pence was impeached and convicted before Trump, Trump could easily nominate Pence's sucessor, especially if said successor was backed by the Republican majority (incidentally, Pence was in the Senate prior to becoming VP, so it would be rather difficult to get his many close collegues to vote against him in sufficient number to convict. Although you wouldn't know it, most of the legislature, especially the Senate, act like the sheep dog and the coyote from that Looney Tunes cartoon. They are vicious enemies, but only while "on the clock" as it so war, and many long term Republicans and Democrats are good friends when not in the public eye. Lest the voter see them being friendly!).

Additiionally, per constitution, if someone is 3rd in line or below assumes the office of President, they are legally only "Acting President" and while they have full force of the office, politically the term notes that they do not have the political mandate of office and they may be greatly limited by the people. And if the office is assumed by a Legislative member, they must be willing to vacate their seat in Congress as part of the assumption of office, and will serve until the end of the term (right now, there's less than a year before the election, and 13 months before the next term begins... the Speaker of the House rarely will have a political future after leaving that office in this manner as typically to get to that position, one has to have been re-elected by their district over the course of several elections... which means they are typically in very safe districts and often on a far aligned spectrum of their party's ideologies. To my knowledge, I do not know of any one getting elected president after serving as Speaker (and the founders viewed the Speaker as the most important political role in the nation, though clearly that didn't happen.).

One interesting aside more: The hypothetical impeachment of the Vice President actually opens up a major constitutional crisis because while the Constitution does say the judge of the Senate trial must be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it's rather mum on the judge for everyone else. This hasn't been a problem so far as most impeachments... but this is one of the few constitutional duties the Vice President does have (though for lesser Impeachments, it's normally the Senate Pro Tempore... who's always of the Vice President's Party and is really acting as President of the Senate when the Vice President can't actually sit in the chair himself (which is often). So the crisis is generally "Who is the Judge for the Veep's Impeachment Trial?" which has no legal answer as of yet because U.S. courts are constitutionally banned from hearing hypothetical cases. The running bust guess is that it would be the Chief Justice, like the President, but we don't know until it actually happens.

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