According to what I've read: the House has the ability to impeach a President, however this doesn't mean the President has to leave office. He only has to leave office if the Senate finds him guilty. Thus, impeachment is just a formal accusation or charge, and the Senate is the judge/jury in which the President is either found guilty or not-guilty. A positive or negative result in the Senate doesn't change the fact that the President was impeached.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. (1)

Removal from office if convicted, is separate from the act of impeachment itself. (2)

If a simple majority of the those present and voting in the House approve an article of impeachment, then the president is impeached. (3)

Is this the correct way of thinking? Because lately, in the news, and conversationally people seem to think that he isn't impeached until after the Senate renders their verdict, and some argue that the President isn't impeached until the articles are sent to the Senate (answered here). The entire system is even called the "impeachment process" which seems to indicate multiple "steps" are required for impeachment (rather than just the House vote).


  1. US Constitution: Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 5
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_in_the_United_States
  3. https://www.ajc.com/news/national/how-does-impeachment-work-here-the-step-step-process/5wUTeEdEgheqohUL1WA0IJ/
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    @Machavity This seems to be a question of Semantics rather than law. Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 14:40
  • 4
    This is because the majority of the people (or at least the ones you're listening to) are ignorant of the actual meaning of the word they're using, and the legal process.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 18:35
  • 4
    Talking about semantics, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 10:44
  • 3
    And obligatory xkcd xkcd.com/2039
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 10:45
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    The recent edit has changed the question totally. The original question didn't even mention Trump or the delay in sending the articles! Worse, the new question is a duplicate. Please revert.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 15:05

5 Answers 5


Impeachment is used to describe two different but related events:

Formally, impeachment happens when the House passes the vote to do so. This is how it is defined in the Constitution, and how lawyers will use the term.

Most of the public uses the phrase that "the President has been impeached" only after he has been impeached and convicted. Similar to that everyone is considered innocent until convicted.

This different usage is causing confusion.

On Politics.SE usually the formal definition is used. On the internet, you have to rely on the context to determine which of the two meanings is used.

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    "Most of the public uses the phrase that "the President has been impeached" only after he has been impeached and convicted. Similar to that everyone is considered innocent until convicted." Are you sure? As this has never actually happened in the history of the US, I'm not sure that's considered common phrasing.
    – AHamilton
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 9:36
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    @AHamilton As the OP wrote: 'Because lately, in the news, and conversationally people seem to think that he isn't impeached until after the Senate renders their verdict." Which indicates a common usage, at least in OP's experience.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 11:24
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    The assertion that "most of the public" associate "impeachment" with conviction seems questionable. Almost every newspaper ran front pages with "impeached" in the lead headline on both the day of Trump's impeachment and of Clinton's.
    – Will
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 19:23
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    @AHamilton I think it's easier to view this the other way: most people don't consider Clinton to have been impeached, because he was not removed by the Senate. Meanwhile, probably lots of people mistakenly thing Nixon was impeached (he actually resigned before the House got to vote).
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 22:11
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    Just because it's a very common misconception does not mean that the "public" have created a second meaning of the word "impeached". They are simply incorrect.
    – Nacht
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 23:10

I find it best to use a similar process in law in order to describe the effective difference.

In criminal law, the process of responding to the commission of a felony goes:

  1. An officer responds to the immediate crime.

  2. A detective investigates the crime scene, witnesses, etc, and interviews suspects until s/he has found someone s/he believes has committed the crime.

  3. The prosecutor assembles the evidence and timeline, then decides whether or not the case against that individual is strong enough to present to a grand jury.

  4. A grand jury of 16 to 23 jurors is convened. They are given:

    • The definition of the laws the person is alleged to have committed,
    • The proof that shows the person would be subject to the jurisdiction of this court, and
    • The evidence and witness testimony under oath that show that this individual did that crime.
  5. If at least 12 grand jurors find that the crime fits the definition under the law, that this specific crime should be tried in this specific court, and that there is enough evidence to support probable cause (A reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person's belief that certain facts are probably true), the prosecution of the accused can now go to trial.

Only after these five steps have occurred does the trial phase begin.

With the House of Representatives acting as that Grand Jury, they have fulfilled all 5 steps and produced a majority saying that these two charges (Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress) pass muster and can proceed to the trial phase. This is what it means to have been impeached. Now, the accused (now defendant) may begin to assemble his/her own evidence and prepare for a trial.

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    I sometimes say that impeachment is like indictment. They even have similar dictionary meanings. In US law, neither is a conviction, but they can be a necessary step on the way to a conviction. Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 17:46
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    I've corrected the description of grand jury procedure, and I've changed "51% majority" to "majority," because the requirement in the House is a simple majority, not 51%. If the requirement were really 51% then, assuming 435 votes cast, you'd need at least 222 in favor and 213 opposed to pass articles of impeachment.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 23:47
  • Isn't a "grand jury" an uncommon procedure, different than what almost all felons undergo?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:27

There are several areas where things get confusing. The most common issue is that impeachment is used commonly to only refer to successful removal. This isn't an accurate usage as unsuccessful removal is still an impeachment. For past impeached Presidents the terminology is usually used correctly to refer to those the House voted to impeach.

A more confusing issue is the current state of the Trump impeachment. Due to the rules as they currently exist for impeachment the house votes on creating the articles and sending them to the senate (these could have been done simultaneously but weren't for Trump). In this case only the first has happened, so there are some claiming that trump isn't impeached yet because there is nothing for the Senate to take up yet. There is some truth to the opinion that if there isn't anything for the Senate to consider then there is no impeachment. There hasn't been an event like this with a prolonged time between a vote on articles of impeachment and sending them to the Senate for trial, so everything is in a bit of a grey area.

It's also possible for the Senate upon receiving the articles of impeachment from the House to simply dismiss them. This could be done with a vote to outright dismiss them or never bringing them up. This also has never happened, some may argue that in these cases there was no impeachment as well. Since the House completed their portion of impeachment most would consider a president or other official impeached.

  • With regard to your last paragraph, this has happened exactly once in the U.S. during the very first impeachment (the impeached person was expelled from the senate the same day)... since Impeachment never happened before, they did need to vote on the the now established rule that removal from office by means other than impeachment automatically dismisses the case. Present rules require the Senate to hear all impeachment cases before it, but the recent delay of delivery of articles did result in a proposal for dismissal for failure to prosecute after 25 days without submitting to the senate.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 15:23
  • @hszmv: You should have clarified (but I'll do it for you) that by "the very first impeachment" you mean the first impeachment of a U.S. Senator, not of a President. The "impeached person" was U.S. Senator William Blount, and details of the event are at senate.gov here. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 19:07
  • @Quuxplusone: You're right, but sadly limited characters prevented that. The "expelled from the senate" was my attempt to explain in as limited format as possible the nature while not letting it bog down the more important correction to what has been written about "never dismissing a charge" as the import of the case is the standard that the Senate can dismiss and has on several occasions.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 19:13
  • How was the Blount situation even considered an "impeachment" in the first place? He was not a "civil officer"; members of the House and Senate can only be removed by votes of their own chamber. In the case of a Senator, the same 2/3 necessary to remove a member happens to coincide with the number required to convict an impeached officer, so the distinction is perhaps moot. But flip it around: Can a mere majority of the House "impeach" one of its members, and the Senate vote to remove, where the Constitution clearly gives that power to 2/3 of the House? I think not. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 19:05

You are correct, that the verdict in the Senate does not change the fact that a president has been impeached. Search for "impeached presidents" and you will get Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, neither of which were removed.

There is a technical argument that this president hasn't been impeached yet, because the Articles of Impeachment have not been transmitted to the Senate. Using other commenters analogy to the criminal process, this is similar to a "sealed indictment", in my opinion.

It is true that the entire process, down to removal, is generally referred to as the "impeachment process", but that should not be taken to mean that the fact of whether or not a president was impeached is dependent upon the whole process.

As for portrayals in the media, my own opinion that is if you seeing it spoken of in a way that implies that he is not impeached until the Senate votes, it is a combination of laziness by those speaking, and the fact that (in my opinion) a frighteningly large percentage of Americans have very little understanding of the US Constitution and civics in general.


Since the question was re-refocused on the proper use of the term, I'll just quote Merriam Webster:

Does impeach mean "to remove from office"?: Usage Guide

Testimonial evidence indicates that references to (and calls for) "impeaching" a public official are commonly understood to refer not simply to charging that official with misconduct "before a competent tribunal," but to actually removing the official from office. The interpretation is understandable if not legally accurate, since removal from office is typically the goal of impeachment, and there seems to be little doubt that the "remove" sense is what many people have in mind when they think or talk about impeaching a president, governor, judge, or other official. But clear examples of impeach being used to mean "remove" in published sources are rarely seen (in many contexts, the meaning is ambiguous), and when such use does occur, it is likely to be cited as an error.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, offers similar advice:

Usage Note: When an irate citizen demands that a disfavored public official be impeached, the citizen clearly intends for the official to be removed from office. This popular use of impeach as a synonym of "throw out" (even if by due process) does not accord with the legal meaning of the word. When a public official is impeached, that is, formally accused of wrongdoing, this is only the start of what can be a lengthy process that may or may not lead to the official's removal from office. In strict usage, an official is impeached (accused), tried, and then convicted or acquitted. The vaguer use of impeach reflects disgruntled citizens' indifference to whether the official is forced from office by legal means or chooses to resign to avoid further disgrace.

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