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Impeachment trial of Trump set to begin the week of Feb. 8

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

House Democrats will send the article of impeachment against former President Trump to the Senate on Monday and the trial will start no sooner than Feb. 9 to allow time for the House and the former president to prepare, under a framework announced Friday.

The timeline, announced by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and agreed to by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), calls for the House to formally walk over the article to the Senate on Monday. On Tuesday, senators will be sworn in for their impeachment duties and a summons will be issued for Trump.

From there, the House and Trump’s legal team will have two weeks to write briefs while the Senate does other business, including confirming Cabinet appointees for the new Biden administration. The trial will begin the week of Feb. 8, one week earlier than a proposal floated Thursday by McConnell.

“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer said earlier in the day. “It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial.”

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The deal marks a substantive agreement by Schumer and McConnell — the first of the new Democratic-led Senate — and sets up the process for a high-profile impeachment trial that will compete with the priorities of the young Biden administration and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.

Trump was impeached by the House on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 mob that attacked the Capitol, making him the only president to be impeached twice and the first to stand trial after leaving office. Republicans are already laying the groundwork to try to delegitimize the process.

Under strict Senate rules, if the article had moved on Monday without an agreement, the trial would have been required to start the following day.

A spokesman for McConnell said the timeline allows enough time to respect “former President Trump’s rights and due process, the institution of the Senate, and the office of the presidency.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said earlier Friday that she would move the article by Monday, an announcement that put pressure on Republicans to negotiate. Senate Democrats were also motivated to set up a process that would not interfere with confirmations or undermine the credibility of the trial by moving too fast.

Several questions remain about how the trial will proceed. It is not yet known whether Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will preside over the trial as he did during the last impeachment trial of Trump. The Constitution appoints the chief justice to oversee an impeachment trial of the president, and Trump is no longer president.

There is also no determination yet of how long the trial will last, although it is widely believed it would not be nearly as long as last year’s nearly three-week trial, which ended with Trump’s acquittal. This time it could be as brief as 24 hours of argument spread over three days. Nor have decisions been made about whether witnesses will be called.

Some Republicans — led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — say the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. They have taken to calling him “citizen Trump” instead of “President Trump” to drive home their point that presidential impeachments were designed by the founders to remove sitting presidents, not punish former ones.

Democrats dispute that charge, noting that the Senate has a precedent for conducting an impeachment trial after an official has left office, albeit not a president.

They also note that if Trump is convicted, a second vote could be held to bar him from holding future office.

Given the high bar of two-thirds of senators needed for conviction, Democrats are already considering their next steps. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is considering how to use the 14th Amendment — which specifically prohibits someone from office if they have “engaged in insurrection” against the United States” — to bar Trump from ever holding office again. The idea is in its infancy.

“I want to focus as much attention right now on the Biden agenda as possible, and minimize the attention on anything other than the Biden agenda,” Kaine said. “One of the things I like about the 14th Amendment is it’s a resolution debated on the floor. It’s not a trial. It’s not a protracted proceeding.”

There are signs that Trump, who is now in Florida, is beginning to prepare for trial. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday that Trump had hired South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers to represent him.

The delay will give Democrats time to confirm President Biden’s Cabinet appointees, who have been approved at a much slower pace than the start of other administrations. Once the trial is underway, other Senate business will grind to a halt because the Senate’s rules require the trial to begin every day at 1 p.m. and continue until there is a vote on conviction.

The only way around that is a deal among all senators. Republicans rejected Biden’s request that the Senate bifurcate its work into using the morning for confirmations and afternoons for trial.

“We’re not going to split the day. At least I wouldn’t,” Graham said. “That’s the business of the Senate, once we go into it. They’re choosing to do this. We’re going to do it the way we’ve always done it. We’ve never split the day.”

Pelosi said in a statement that the House is “attentive” to the fairness of the process. She noted that the House managers responsible for presenting the case to the Senate will have as much time to prepare as the president does.

“Our managers are ready to begin to make their case to 100 Senate jurors through the trial process,” she said.


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