Senate Deal Delays Trump Trial, Clears Way for Biden Nominees

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer struck a deal with GOP leader Mitch McConnell that puts off former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial for two weeks, allowing the chamber to forge ahead with confirmation votes on President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks.

The House’s single article of impeachment will be ceremoniously delivered Monday to the Senate chamber, and read aloud. But House Democratic impeachment managers, whose roles are to prosecute the case, and Trump’s defense team then have until the week of Feb. 8 to draft opposing briefs, Schumer announced.

The agreement for this deferred timetable resolves one of the main challenges for Biden and Democrats -- providing days in-between to potentially fill the new president’s cabinet and begin work on his Covid-relief plan. It also reflects a compromise with McConnell, who urged setting a timetable that would have pre-trial arguments filed by Feb. 11.

While the agreement takes care of one nagging issue, senators left town Friday without any progress organizing much-needed rules to govern a 50-50 Senate.

The House impeached Trump for the second time on Jan. 13 on a single article charging him with inciting an insurrection for his role in stoking a mob of supporters who then stormed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people and damaging the building.

“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us,” Schumer said Friday on the Senate floor. “But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability. And that is what this trial will provide.”

McConnell’s spokesman, Doug Andres, said in a statement that the GOP leader was “glad” that Schumer agreed with his request for more time.

“Especially given the fast and minimal process in the House, Republicans set out to ensure the Senate’s next steps will respect former President Trump’s rights and due process, the institution of the Senate, and the office of the presidency. That goal has been achieved,” Andres said.

Biden on Friday also said he’d like more time before the Senate is consumed by dealing with Trump. Senators so far only have approved two of his cabinet members, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen is set for a vote on Monday.

“The more time we have to get up and running and meet these crises, the better,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

Delay Benefits Both Parties

After Trump’s first House impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, on Dec. 18, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took until Jan. 15, 2020 to send the articles over to the Senate to be considered at trial. Prosecution arguments began Jan. 22.

Neither party would seem to benefit from beginning a trial immediately after the House delivers the new article of impeachment, with Democrats wanting time to deal with Biden’s cabinet and Republicans wanting more time for Trump to plan his defense. GOP senators had warned that moving quickly would tie up the Senate.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said Friday that without agreement, starting up the trial “displaces everything else.”

Constitutional Question

Several Republicans have argued that it’s unconstitutional to try Trump, who is now a private citizen, but some legal scholars and Democrats say the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend to give presidents free rein to violate their oath in the waning weeks of their terms.

If Trump were to be convicted, a court challenge could determine which side in that debate over the Constitution is correct. In the meantime, nothing prevents any Republican senator from voting to acquit or dismiss the charge based on their stated belief that the Constitution doesn’t allow a former president to stand trial.

And a growing number of them have indicated in recent days that they likely would vote to acquit for that very reason, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Mike Braun of Indiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“There is not a president to be removed,” Wicker said. “So I think it’s a totally pointless exercise. It’s a statement, but the House has already made that statement.”

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