Could a president be impeached for incompetence?

I was reading an editorial this AM that sad that the president “should go” for failing to respond to Katrina (and a laundry list of other complaints). But then I thought, we don’t have Parliamentary-style option for a vote of No Confidence. The Constitution provides for impeachment of the Pres. and others for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” But not incompetence.

Now, the obvious gray area here is “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That could cover a lot of ground. Clinton’s High Crime was lying under oath. Andrew Johnson’s High Crime was trying to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton—a violation of the just-passed Tenure of Office Act (which required Senate approval for such firings). So, could Bush be charged with, say, criminal negligence for slashing flood-control funding, appointing underqualified people to positions of authority at FEMA, and failing to respond quickly enough to the crisis once it hit?

I would doubt it. It’s not technically ‘neglect’, I’d bet. It’s setting budget priorities and that’s well within his scope of office. So I don’t think that’s a ‘high crime etc’.

I suppose one could be removed for ‘being incapable of fulfilling the office’ or somesuch by the VP and the cabinet (IIRC) but if they were to try they’d better damn well have pictures of him picking his nose and eating it or something.

In a legal, logical sense, no, that is not grounds for impeachement. But to a large degree, impeachement is whatever Congress says it is.

I think it’s also voter incopetence. GW’s inability to make reasonable plans and carry them out was a matter of public record before he ever was elected. People went ahead and voted for him anyway.

Unfortunately the Constitutional requirements for the office don’t include actual fitness to perform its duties.

Incoptetence isn’t a formal crime. That’s probably a good thing too because it it were who would be safe?

Oops. That’s politics in GQ, a no no. I take it all back. It’s just as if I never wrote it, right?

Impeachment is a political proceeding, not a legal proceeding. If the House votes to impeach him, he’s impeached. If the Senate votes to remove him, he’s removed.

I agree with muttrox and Captain Amazing. While one might make arguments that certain actions should not be impeachable offenses, the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t impeachable is whatever the House of Representatives says it is.


It’s almost inconceivable that the Supreme Court would overturn any procedurally sound impeachment. So if the question is, “Can the President be impeached (and removed) because of incompetence?”, the answer is yes.

However, the nature of the process and 200 years of precedents all weigh against such a step. A judge was once impeached for insanity, and one of the articles against Andrew Johnson accused him of bringing Congress into disrepute, so charges at times have verged from strict legalism. However, there has never been an impeachment for something as nebulous as “incompetence”, and it’s unlikely there ever will be.

Impeachment has both political and legal elements (like wave/particle duality). The removal process takes the form of a trial, the Senators take an oath to do impartial justice, and there are prosecutors, charges, and witnesses. All of these militate against a purely political removal.

It copies some of the vocabulary and other trappings of the legal system, but is nevertheless unconnected to it in substance. US Constitution, Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7:

I forget who said it (Ford?), but essentially the president can be for whatever 51% of the House of Representatives think he should be impeached for.

To be sure, the Senate is likely to be more impressed (and more likely to find guilty) if there are actual legal sounding charges rather than aggravated buffoonery. I would imagine that with a little effort something of the sort could be found for most chief executives, if nailing presidents takes precedence over setting precedents.

Isn’t it a felony to lie to Congress? If so, then wouldn’t Bush’s insistence that Iraq had WMDs and required authorization for war be sufficient grounds?

::sigh:: If I tell you that the holocaust never happened, I’m not lying. Maybe a stupid, ignorant bastard, but I’m not lying.

It’s also only a felony to lie to Congress if you’re under oath.

Just to review:

Impeachment is only one step on the way of getting someone out of office. The House draws up articles of impeachment that outline the factual reasons the President, Vice President, or other Federal officer should be brought before the Senate to stand trial. If these articles are passed by a simple majority in the House, they are passed to the Senate and the person is officially impeached. He runs the risk of being run out of town, but he’s a long way from having to pack his bags at gunpoint.

The Senate then holds the trial, at the conclusion of which each member votes for or against conviction. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, the bum is run out of office. I don’t know if any other penalties could apply at that point.

The law says that this is just to throw him out. Any other criminal trials (and their penalties–jail, etc.) are separate events.

So I presume double jeopardy doesn’t apply?

(If a president was impeached, tried, and thrown out of office for lying under oath, would he still be prosecutable for perjury at a later date?)

I think what people hear are saying is that we should “Recall” Bush!

Unfortunately you can’t Recall a US predident:mad:

So while being a stupid, incompetent, moron that has the brains of a third grader
(sorry to insult the third graders) … until GB commits a felony while
In office … it seems we’re stuck with him!

Want to hear something scary … Jebediah Bu … NOOOOOOOOOOOOO :eek: :

EnderWay. You’re in General Questions. Keep politics out of here.

samclem GQ moderator

He would, because impeachment and conviction is not a criminal proceeding in law. No double jeopardy ensues.