What does impeachment really mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘impeach’ Merriam-Webster.com. 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com (19 November 2019) means ‘to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office’. It does not mean to remove the person from office, and this can sometimes be a problem for some translation services. For example, the translation that we sometimes find in Spanish (destitución) or Portuguese (destituição) actually means removal, and this is not completely accurate. Some translations in Portuguese even use the English word impeachment. The word derives from the Late Latin verb impedicare, meaning to fetter.

There have only ever been three formal presidential impeachment enquiries in the United States, including the one that is currently under way against Donald Trump. Only two U.S. presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been formally impeached by Congress and no president has ever been removed from office by impeachment. In 1858, Johnson scraped through, one vote short of a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Both presidents were Democrats. President Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal before he could be impeached.

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