Democrats race toward Trump’s second impeachment trial
House Democrats will deliver an impeachment charge against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of a second trial in the coming days.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer first announced the move on Friday morning, effectively rejecting a request from Senate Republicans to delay the start of the proceedings for two weeks so that Trump can formulate a legal defense.
In a statement later on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed the plan and dismissed concerns by Republicans that Trump’s legal team wouldn’t have adequate time.
“The former president will have had the same amount of time to prepare for trial as our Managers,” Pelosi said, referring to her hand-picked team of House Democrats who will essentially serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial.
“The House has been respectful of the Senate’s constitutional power over the trial and always attentive to the fairness of the process,” Pelosi later added in a letter sent to her members, noting that Monday would be a “momentous and solemn day.”
Democrats have not yet offered details on when the trial will begin, but Pelosi’s decision to formally deliver the article of impeachment on Monday means that the Senate trial will likely begin early next week, absent a consent agreement between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Under Senate rules, an impeachment trial must begin within one day after the House sends its article if the chamber is in session, unless Schumer and McConnell agree to a different timetable.
“The Senate will conduct a trial on the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer said in a floor speech Friday. “It will be a fair trial. But make no mistake, there will be a trial.”
McConnell — whose GOP members have been consulting with Trump — has argued that the House should wait until next Thursday to transmit the article. That timeline, he said, would give Trump until Feb. 11 to prepare his defense.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” McConnell said on the floor Friday. “The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself.”
The exact format of the Senate’s unprecedented second impeachment trial is still unclear, though lawmakers of both parties say they expect it to take up less time than the three weeks spent on Trump’s first trial in early 2020. Whether the Senate also brings in witnesses is another open question.
Days before the trial is set to begin, many GOP senators are lamenting a process that they say will only disrupt the Senate’s jam-packed schedule confirming Biden’s nominees and potentially moving to an additional Covid-19 relief package.
“Absent some agreement, we won’t be doing any confirmations, we won’t be doing any Covid-19 relief, we won’t be doing anything else other than impeaching the person who’s not even president,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters Friday.
“I think what McConnell laid down was eminently reasonable, in terms of making sure that we got [due] process,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a moderate who could be a critical vote in Trump’s trial. “The process has to be fair. So yeah, so we gotta get started, I guess.”
Without an agreement, the trial would require all 100 senators to attend the trial six days a week — almost certainly complicating Biden’s agenda in the first few weeks.
A team of Democratic House impeachment managers are expected to spend several days arguing that the former president played a major role in inciting violence at the Capitol, focusing on a speech he delivered to a pro-Trump rally just hours before rioters breached the complex.
Trump this week began to prepare his defense, hiring attorney Butch Bowers — who has represented several high-profile Republicans in ethics cases — to lead his team.
While Democrats are expected to vote to convict Trump, it’s unclear how many Senate Republicans will join them. Seventeen Republicans will need to join all Democrats in order to convict Trump.
Several GOP senators argue Democrats are stoking further division and are coalescing around the argument that it’s legally dubious to convict a private citizen.
“I think you’re opening up Pandora’s box, anything they can do, we can do,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally. “You engage in post-presidential impeachment — you’re going to destroy the presidency over time.”
But not everyone is on board with that argument, including scholars from the conservative Federal Society. And Democrats have argued that Trump — or any president — should be held accountable for his behavior while in office, even if it’s in the final days or weeks of a term.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that a president or any official could commit a heinous crime against our country and then be permitted to resign so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disbar them from future office,” Schumer said Friday.