What is impeachment and how does it work?

Last updated at 08:58
US President Donald Trump.Getty Images

US President Donald Trump has found himself at the centre of an important news story at the moment.

He has been accused of being racist after a series of tweets against four congresswomen.

He has denied he's done anything wrong and said he doesn't "have a racist bone" in his body but it has caused huge controversy.

His comments have been widely criticised by lots of people and on 16 July 2019 politicians in the US voted to symbolically condemn the president.

There were also calls for him to be impeached but a vote on it in the US House of Representatives did not get enough support to be passed.

It's not the first time there has been talk of impeaching Mr Trump, there have been attempts in 2017 and 2018, but what does this mean - and is it really a possibility for President Trump?

What is impeachment?

Impeachment proceedings are a rare event in the US and are a final check on the president's power.

The United States Congress - the part of the US government that writes and brings in laws - can put certain senior American officials like the president on trial.

The American Constitution, which is basically a rulebook for US citizens, states the president can be impeached and removed from office for a number of offences.

These include "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours".

How does impeachment work?
The Capitol.Reuters
The Senate and the House of Representatives - which together make Congress - are based in the US Capitol building in Washington DC

The process of impeachment has to be started by the House of Representatives, which is one half of the US Congress, and only needs a simple majority to pass.

If this happens, the trial will then be held in the Senate - the second half of Congress.

This is a bit like a courtroom, where senators will act like a jury to decide whether or not a president is guilty.

Here two-thirds of senators must vote in favour of impeaching the president in order to remove him or her from the job.

Has it been done before?
Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.PA/Getty Images
The only two US presidents to have been impeached in history are Bill Clinton (left) and Andrew Johnson (right), but neither were convicted and removed from office

The last US president to be impeached - when the House of Representatives voted in favour of the process - was Bill Clinton in 1998.

It also happened in 1868 to Andrew Johnson, but neither Mr Clinton or Mr Johnson were convicted by the Senate.

So, impeachment does not automatically mean that a president will be removed from the job.

Up until now, no US president has been removed from office as a result of impeachment.

Richard Nixon
Many people believe that Mr Nixon would have been impeached and sacked from his job if he hadn't resigned

The one who probably came closest was Richard Nixon.

But he quit as president of the United States in 1974 before impeachment proceedings could begin, and would have most likely removed him from office.

Is Donald Trump going to be impeached?
Mr Trump speaking to the media.AFP/Getty Images
Mr Trump has accused his former lawyer of making up "stories"

Right now, it is unlikely.

The Democratic leadership has so far refused to start impeachment proceedings, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi repeatedly saying she does not want to act until an "ironclad case" has been built against the president.

But while the motion on 17 July 2019 was defeated - with 332 voting against - it did indicate growing support among Democrats for impeachment proceedings.

US Capitol building in Washington DCGetty Images
What would happen if Donald Trump is removed from office?

If Mr Trump were to be successfully impeached, his vice-president Mike Pence would take the oath of office and become the next US president.