Senate to Begin Trump Trial Then Pause for Biden Confirmations
(Bloomberg) -- Senators will be sworn in as jurors in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Tuesday and issue a summons to the former president. But they will then mostly set it aside for two weeks as they plow through confirmation votes on President Joe Biden’s cabinet and work on another pandemic relief plan.
The unprecedented trial ceremonially kicked off Monday night as a delegation of House Democrats who will act as prosecutors delivered the single article of impeachment to the Senate chamber. The substance of the trial, however, will wait until the week of Feb. 8, when briefs from House prosecutors and Trump’s defense team are due.
The group of Democrats, known as impeachment managers, walked in a silent procession across the Capitol and lead manager, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, read the brief article, charging Trump with incitement insurrection for his actions before a mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government,” Raskin read from the document. “He thereby betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Trump is the first American president to have been impeached twice and will be the first to be tried after leaving office. The symbolic opening of the trial comes as the Senate is still without an agreement on how it will operate with a 50-50 split and Democrats in nominal control. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and GOP leader Mitch McConnell have agreed on the timing for moving ahead with the trial but little else.
“We’ll hopefully negotiate something with McConnell on the trial,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol when asked whether there will be witnesses called. “We don’t know what the requests are from either side yet.”
McConnell has sought a delay to let Trump put a defense team together and Biden has expressed concern about the Senate getting tied up with a trial while most of his cabinet has yet to be confirmed and he’s pursuing a major stimulus bill.
The president, in an interview with CNN on Monday night, said the trial might have an impact on his legislative agenda and nominees but added, “it has to happen.”
He also said he doubted many Republicans would vote to convict Trump now that he’s out of office.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the president pro tempore of the chamber, will preside over the trial, rather than Chief Justice John Roberts, because Trump is no longer in office.
Odds of him being convicted on the charge of incitement to insurrection are long. Conviction would require the votes of at least 17 Republican senators, but many are arguing that doing so would be divisive, unwarranted or even unconstitutional.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who has been a close ally of Trump, said Monday he didn’t think most Republicans would vote to convict the former president and questioned the rationale and legal basis for the impeachment.
“It’s just vindictive. It’s ridiculous,” Johnson told reporters at the Capitol. “I don’t see anything in the Constitution that talks about an impeachment of a former president.”
Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, also questioned the constitutionality of trying a president no longer in office as well as the basis for the charge against Trump.
“You would have to think about does it meet a standard of incitement of insurrection,” he said. “And some people say absolutely it doesn’t meet the test.”
Schumer on Monday dismissed arguments that the Constitution bars the Senate from trying a former president, calling it a “fringe legal theory.” He cited the research of numerous legal scholars and a precedent from 1876 when an impeachment trial was held for the secretary of war under President Ulysses S. Grant even though he had resigned to avoid the proceedings.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that a president or any official could commit a heinous crime against our country and then defeat Congress’ impeachment powers by simply resigning,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The House voted to impeach Trump on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats in favor. The single article charges Trump with inciting the crowd of his supporters that rioted at the Capitol, leaving five people dead and disrupting the certification of Biden’s victory in the November election.
Only a few Republican senators were in the Senate chamber when the House managers arrived, including McConnell, Mitt Romney of Utah and Roger Marshall of Kansas, who was elected in November. About half of the Democrats’ desks were occupied.
A Route Through History
The route the managers followed through the House’s Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda to the Senate was the same taken by Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania in 1868 a day after the House voted to impeach President Andrew Johnson.
House Clerk Cheryl Johnson led Monday’s procession -- as she did last year before Trump’s first trial -- this time joined by acting sergeant at arms Timothy Blodgett and followed by the nine House managers. Last year, a group of seven House managers made the same trip with carts of transcripts from House witnesses and hearing testimony.
This time around, there were no such hearings. Democrats made the case that Trump had essentially incited and supported insurrection in public view.
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