What happens in 2024 if Joe Biden and Donald Trump are both impeached?
WASHINGTON - House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday that Republicans in the lower chamber are launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
The inquiry comes as Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., have long alleged that Biden was improperly involved in his family’s business dealings. GOP lawmakers have particularly targeted the work of Biden's son, Hunter Biden.
The White House immediately dismissed the inquiry, with special assistant to the president Ian Sams calling the move "extreme politics at its worst." Meanwhile, moderate Republicans have held mixed views on whether an inquiry is the right path forward before their colleagues have laid out more evidence against the president.
The inquiry also comes at a critical time for Congress, which only has 10 working days to avoid a looming government shutdown, and Biden, who’s seeking reelection in the 2024 presidential race.
But what is an impeachment inquiry? Will Biden be removed from office? Here's what you need to know.
What is an impeachment inquiry?
An impeachment inquiry is an investigation into a federal official, such as a president or judge, for wrongdoing. It can include public hearings or witness testimony. Typically, there’s a House vote to launch an inquiry into a president, but McCarthy on Tuesday called for the investigation without a vote in the chamber.
The House has initiated impeachment proceedings more than 60 times, but “fewer than a third of all proceedings have led to full impeachment,” according to the House of Representatives' website.
The House can impeach an official by a majority vote on articles of impeachment, a written statement of charges against an official.
After the House sends articles of impeachment to the Senate, the Senate acts as a court to "consider evidence, hear witnesses and vote to acquit or convict the impeached official," according to the Senate's website. The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote for conviction, in which the penalty would be removal from office.
What are the chances of Biden getting impeached and convicted?
Currently there are not enough votes in the House to impeach Biden, according to David Bateman, a professor of policy and government at Cornell University.
McCarthy has given conservative Republicans "a concession they've been demanding since before Biden was president," Bateman said. "But by calling it an impeachment inquiry, and by not requiring the House to vote to authorize it, he has avoided having to force the rest of his conference from voting on it."
There are likely several Republican House members who represent more moderate districts and wouldn't vote for impeachment unless there is actual evidence Biden committed actual treason or a high crime or misdemeanor, said Marc Scholl, a former prosecutor in New York now counsel to the firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann & Middlemiss. The Constitution says the president can be removed from office over "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Even if the House found a majority to bring charges, it's not likely that two-thirds of the Senate, controlled by Democrats, would convict Biden, Scholl said.
Bateman agreed, noting that "if clearly compelling evidence of extraordinary wrongdoing were discovered, it's possible - though still very unlikely - that there would be enough votes to convict Biden in the Senate."
How many presidents have been impeached?
Three former presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Johnson was impeached in 1868 after he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, an ally of the so-called "radical Republicans" in Congress who opposed Johnson's Reconstruction policies. The move, which Johnson's opponents alleged violated the Tenure of Office Act, led to Johnson being impeached with high crimes and misdemeanors.
Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury before a federal grand jury and obstructing justice, according to the Library of Congress. The impeachment revolved around evidence that Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern at the time, and tried to cover it up.
Trump was impeached twice. In 2019, he was impeached after he allegedly withheld funds to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, his political rival. The House voted to impeach Trump for two charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Trump was impeached again in 2021 for his alleged incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.
None of these presidents were convicted by the Senate.
What happens if the 2024 election has two impeached presidents?
In terms of holding office, nothing would change since both candidates would only be impeached, not convicted, according to Scholl.
If Biden were convicted, he would be precluded from holding office since Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says a convicted person is “disqualif[ied] to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States." Though Trump was never convicted in the Senate, some groups have filed lawsuits to get Trump off the ballot in 2024 using the 14th Amendment, which some legal experts argue might not work.
But impeachment efforts against Trump and Biden could fuel their respective supporters.
Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University, previously told USA TODAY that an impeachment inquiry itself will likely rally the GOP base and may increase partisan turnout. But it can also alienate moderate independents in crucial swing states that Trump or Biden would need to cinch in the 2024 race for the White House.
“Crossover votes are important in the general election and the inquiry is likely to hurt efforts to broaden the base, especially in battleground states," Wagner said.
Yes, Supreme Court justices can be impeached.
For instance, Samuel Chase, an associate justice of the Supreme Court, was impeached in 1804 on grounds of allegedly refusing to “dismiss biased jurors and of excluding or limiting defense witnesses in two politically sensitive cases," according to the U.S. Senate. He was acquitted by the Senate, however.
Scholl said that Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution provides that Justices hold their offices “during good Behaviour.” So, presumably, if the House concludes a justice is not showing “good Behaviour” there can be an impeachment charge brought by the House for the Senate to determine, he said.
But some have argued that Constitution's standards surrounding "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" can also apply to Supreme Court justices, since that section involves all civil officers of the federal government, Scholl explained.
Regardless of the logistics, impeachment efforts against Supreme Court justices are extremely rare in modern times.