The United States Senate is in the thick of an impeachment trial. Reports twist and spin the news to favor one side or the other. But what actually happens during an impeachment trial? Here’s a look at some of the key players and what they are doing during this rare event.
The trial includes Senators, House members who serve as prosecutors in the Senate, and lawyers who defend the President. The President himself can also show up to answer the charges too.
The Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial and has the power under long-standing Senate rules to “rule on all questions of evidence.” That means he could, in theory, allow House members to call the witnesses they want and decide what evidence gets introduced.
But the Chief Justice’s rulings could be overridden by a majority of the Senate. The standing rules also give him the option of letting the Senate decide such questions in the first place.
It’s possible the Senate also could vote on specific ground rules—rules that address witnesses and other issues—before the trial begins or while it’s underway.
While most of the proceedings are public, the Senate could decide to hold its deliberations before final votes behind closed doors.
Both sides get to argue their case when the trial begins and at its close, before the Senate votes on each article of impeachment.
It takes 67 votes to convict at an impeachment trial, if all 100 senators vote. But, a simple majority could vote to end the trial.
If the President is acquitted, the trial ends and he or she remains in office.
If the President is convicted on any of the articles of impeachment, he or she is automatically removed from office and the Vice President is sworn in.
Only two presidents have gone through impeachment trials in American history. Neither appeared in the Senate to answer charges or was removed from office. President Andrew Johnson narrowly escaped conviction by a single vote.
(The U.S. Senate closely controls photos of the impeachment trail. So this is an opportunity for traditional courtroom artists to shine. This sketch depicts White House counsel speaking in the Senate chamber, Tuesday, January 21, 2020. Dana Verkouteren via AP)