Pelosi Leaves Congress Guessing on Trump Senate Trial Timing
(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the impeachment of President Donald Trump as “urgent” but declined to say Friday when the House will send the single charge for inciting insurrection to the Senate to begin his trial.
Speaking to reporters two days after the House impeached Trump for encouraging his supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi choked up as she described some rioters celebrating the Holocaust and White supremacy after they breached the “temple of Democracy.”
“As we address the insurrection that was perpetrated against the Capitol complex last week, right now, our managers are solemnly and prayerfully preparing for the trial, which they will take to the Senate,” Pelosi told reporters at a news conference, referring to the impeachment managers who will present the House’s case.
But Pelosi avoided repeated questions about the timing for transmitting the single article of impeachment to the Senate, a decision that has implications for how quickly Congress can act on President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet choices and agenda, including a $1.9 trillion virus-relief package. The trial could start no sooner than Jan. 20, the day Biden is set to be sworn in.
“They are now working on taking this to trial, and you’ll be the first to know when we announce that we are,” Pelosi told reporters.
Sending the House’s article of impeachment to the Senate triggers the process for Trump’s trial, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have not said how chamber will actually proceed. Democrats will assume control of the evenly divided Senate as soon as two newly elected Georgia senators are sworn in, Kamala Harris takes her oath as vice president and Alex Padilla replaces her as a senator from California.
Biden has asked the Senate to divide its time between Trump’s trial and regular business, but McConnell hasn’t responded publicly and officials were still reviewing whether and how the chamber could do that.
“The Senate can do its constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the people,” incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “We will be working closely on the mechanics and the process with Senate leaders and Senate offices on exactly how to do that.”
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is among the Democrats arguing to delay the trial or allow other business to be conducted. He said addressing the coronavirus pandemic and confirming Biden’s cabinet nominees should be the Senate’s priority.
”If there is a mechanism to either delay the trial or do it in parts, I would certainly support that,” Murphy said Friday at a virtual Atlantic Council event. He also said he’s been “fairly impressed by Senator McConnell’s performance,” noting that the threat of conviction could influence Trump’s actions in the last days of his presidency.
There’s no indication yet that at least 17 Republicans would vote with Democrats to reach the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump. But it’s clear that many in the GOP are angry.
McConnell told Senate Republicans in a Wednesday note that he hasn’t decided if he would vote to convict. That stands in contrast to his public stance after Trump was impeached for the first time in December 2019, when McConnell said he was “not an impartial juror” and that there was zero chance the president would be convicted.
McConnell also hasn’t been telling GOP senators how to vote in the eventual impeachment trial. Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said in an interview with Business Insider that McConnell told him that verdict “would clearly be a vote of conscience.”
A handful of Republicans in the Senate have sharply criticized Trump’s actions, including Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Still, Cramer said that he doesn’t think Trump would be convicted.
Tom Daschle, who was the Democratic leader in 2001, the last time the Senate was divided 50-50, said starting the trial sooner rather than later and having the Senate split its time “would be the most logical and pragmatic” approach.
Though delaying the trial a few months -- as a few Democrats have advocated -- might seem like a way to speed action on pressing legislation, he said, it risks making it harder to forge agreements.
“The longer it hangs out there, the more political it becomes and the more divisive it could be,” said Daschle, who was also Senate Democratic leader during President Bill Clinton’s contentious 1999 impeachment trial.
After Trump’s first impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 18, 2019, the House didn’t transmit the articles until Jan. 15, 2020, a span of 27 days.
When the Senate trial does start, Trump will become the first former president to face an impeachment trial, which some Republicans contend is unconstitutional, even though a number of legal scholars say the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend to leave presidents free in the waning days of their terms to engage in egregious wrongdoing without consequence.
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