House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she will send the article of impeachment against Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the former president’s trial on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” of the deadly Capitol Jan. 6 riot.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced Pelosi’s intentions for a quick trial on the Senate floor Friday, rejecting Republicans’ proposal to push it to mid-February to give Trump more time to prepare his case. Schumer said there will be “a full trial,” and “it will be a fair trial.”
Senate Republicans are arguing in Trump’s defense that it is pointless, and potentially even unconstitutional, to try a president after he has left office. But Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account because of the gravity of what took place — a violent attack on the U.S. Congress aimed at overturning an election. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again.
Once the impeachment article is sent to the Senate on Monday, the trial would have to start by Tuesday, under Senate rules, unless leaders come to a bipartisan agreement. Pelosi said her nine impeachment managers, or House prosecutors, are “ready to begin to make their case” against Trump. Trump’s team will have had the same amount of time to prepare, she said.
Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” just before they invaded the Capitol two weeks ago and interrupted the electoral vote count, is the first president to be twice impeached and the first to face a trial after leaving office. He is still assembling his legal team.
Democrats say they can move quickly through the trial, potentially with no witnesses, because lawmaker witnessed the insurrection first-hand.
The trial will come as the Senate, now in Democratic control, is also working to swiftly confirm President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees and tackle the new administration’s legislative priorities.
Biden has repeatedly said that he believes the Senate can both try impeachment and move forward, though that will take some agreement from Republicans. Schumer said he is speaking to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell about the “timing and duration” of the proceedings ahead.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday deferred to Congress on timing and would not say whether Biden thinks Trump should be convicted. But she said lawmakers can simultaneously discuss and have hearings on Biden’s coronavirus relief package.
“We don’t think it can be delayed or it can wait, so they’re going to have to find a path forward,” Psaki said of the virus aid. “He’s confident they can do that.”
Democrats would need the support of at least 17 Republicans to convict Trump, a high bar. While most Republican senators condemned Trump’s actions that day, far fewer appear to be ready to convict.
A handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open — but not committed — to conviction. But most have come to Trump’s defense as it relates to impeachment, saying they believe a trial will be divisive and questioning the legality of trying a president after he has left office.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who has been helping him find lawyers to represent him, said Friday there is “a very compelling constitutional case” on whether Trump can be impeached after his term — an assertion that Democrats reject, saying there is ample legal precedent. Graham also suggested that Republicans will argue Trump’s words on Jan. 6 were not legally “incitement.”
“On the facts, they’ll be able to mount a defense, so the main thing is to give him a chance to prepare and run the trial orderly, and hopefully the Senate will reject the idea of pursuing presidents after they leave office,” Graham said.
Other Republicans had stronger words, suggesting there should be no trial at all. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said Pelosi is sending a message to Biden that “my hatred and vitriol of Donald Trump is so strong that I will stop even you and your Cabinet from getting anything done.” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson suggested Democrats are choosing “vindictiveness” over national security as Biden attempts to set up his government.
McConnell, who said this week that Trump “provoked” his supporters before the riot, has not said how he will vote. He told his GOP colleagues that it will be a vote of conscience.
Responding to Schumer’s announcement that the article will be delivered, McConnell said Senate Republicans “strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal and constitutional questions.”
The timing and details of the Senate trial eventually rest on negotiations between Schumer and McConnell, who are also in talks over a power-sharing agreement for the Senate, which is split 50-50 but in Democratic control because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
A trial delay could appeal to some Democrats, as it would give the Senate more time to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and debate the new round of coronavirus relief.
Facing his second impeachment trial in two years, Trump was beginning to assemble his defense team and had hired South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers to represent him, according to an adviser. Bowers previously served as counsel to former South Carolina Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford.
Trump is at a disadvantage compared with his first trial, in which he had the full resources of the White House counsel’s office to defend him and was easily acquitted of House charges that he encouraged the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden while withholding military aid. Graham helped Trump hire Bowers after members of his past legal teams indicated they did not plan to join the new effort.
The riots two weeks ago left the Capitol badly shaken, and National Guard troops are still guarding the building. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem, and the House impeached Trump a week later, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in support.
Pelosi said Thursday that it would be “harmful to unity” to forget that “people died here on Jan. 6, the attempt to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonor our Constitution.”
“This year, the whole world bore witness to the president’s incitement,” Pelosi said.