It's official. The House will begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's announcement Tuesday escalated tensions between Democrats and the president to a new high, but there is still a while to go. And it's not yet clear how much impact it might have on Trump.
The blueprint for impeachment is laid out in the United States Constitution in Article II, Section IV. The clause says that a president can be removed from office following "Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
The "high crimes and misdemeanors" clause leaves a wide latitude for Congress to press charges and would be the most likely justification of Trump's impeachment.
Unlike a normal court proceeding, impeachment is a process that happens exclusively in Congress. Members of the House act as prosecutors, the senators as jurors, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides.
The House of Representatives initiates the process, charging the president with violating at least one of the three offenses. Any member of the House, regardless of party, can propose charges. Then, only a simple majority vote is needed to start the process.
A simple majority in the House would also determine whether the president is impeached. But conviction of the president can only happen in the Senate. For that to happen, at least two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 members, must vote to convict the president, resulting in his removal from office. Currently, the Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats.
Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only presidents to be impeached, while no president has ever been convicted and removed from office. President Richard Nixon, whose tenure ended because of the Watergate scandal, resigned from office before impeachment ever came to a vote.
An impeachment and successful removal from office wouldn't clear a president of any criminal charges he might have committed before, during or after his presidency. The president could still face criminal action and be thrown in jail if the charges are severe enough.
If Trump's impeachment led to his removal from office, Vice President Mike Pence would serve out the remainder of his term, set to expire on Jan. 20, 2021.