Senate

Democrats torn on impeachment trial timing

Senate Democrats are torn on the timing of an impeachment trial for President Trump, worried it could delay President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda for a week or longer.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has proposed that the Senate could work on a dual track by processing Biden’s Cabinet picks in the morning while holding a speedy impeachment trial for Trump in the afternoon, but Republicans don’t seem interested in the idea and can easily block it.

This puts Democrats in the tricky spot of deciding whether to prioritize a second impeachment trial for Trump, which wouldn’t begin until after he leaves office. This prospect of holding a trial after Trump becomes a private citizen is already drawing objections from Republicans who are questioning whether doing so is even constitutional.

Several Democrats argue that Biden’s agenda should take first priority while others wonder if an impeachment trial, which could further poison the well of Senate collegiality, is even worth it at a time when they need Republican support to move Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal.

“My clear preference is to create room for nominations and legislation. I’ll defer to leadership but I don’t know that we have to start the trial right after the inauguration,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called another impeachment trial of Trump a “moot question” because he’s leaving office on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a moot question. This president is leaving office so it won’t have any practical application. But whatever happens is fine with me,” she said.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist who represents a state easily won by Trump in last year’s election, said earlier this month that an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office “doesn’t make any common sense whatsoever.”

Manchin on Tuesday said, “I was concerned about having the impeachment at the time we needed to put our government back together and build confidence back in our government.”

Manchin said that Biden “needs to put that stability back and build confidence back,” noting the number of acting secretaries currently holding key executive branch positions.

Schumer on Tuesday, however, argued that a trial is necessary to bar Trump from running for the White House again in 2024, even though it’s uncertain that Trump, who is highly unpopular, would do it.  

Gallup measured Trump’s final job approval rating in office at 34 percent, the worst of his presidency. The poll was conducted from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15.

Schumer argued on the Senate floor that the upper chamber “has a solemn responsibility to try and hold Donald Trump accountable for the most serious charge ever levied against a president: the incitement of an insurrection against the United States of America.”

Schumer indicated that Democratic leaders have already decided to move forward with the impeachment trial, although he didn’t comment on its timing.

“There will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate. There will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. And if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again,” he said.

He expressed hope that Republicans would agree to move Biden’s nominees quickly.

“With cooperation, we can confirm key national security nominees at State, the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury and the intelligence community,” he said.

“The health and economic challenges our nation faces — the need to get vaccines out quickly — also require having key health officials and key economic nominees confirmed and on the job as soon as possible,” he added.

But Republicans are already shooting down the idea of moving Biden’s nominees while holding an impeachment trial at the same time.

“That’s [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s [D-Calif.] choice because once she sends the articles of impeachment over it displaces all of their business,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday.

“So if she wants to delay the confirmation of President Biden’s nominees to Cabinet positions and prevent President Biden from asking for and receiving additional COVID-19 relief that would be one way to do it,” he added. “So they have a big decision to make.”

Asked about the prospect of moving Biden’s Cabinet picks and an impeachment trial on a dual track, Cornyn said: “That’s not going to be possible.”

Complicating the picture for Democrats is the lack of a power-sharing agreement for the Senate once three newly elected Democrats are sworn in — Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff (Ga.), Raphael Warnock (Ga.) and Alex Padilla (Calif.). Padilla is filling the seat vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Without a power-sharing agreement, Schumer will not be able to set the committee ratios and appoint new Democratic members to the committees. That’s important because the Senate cannot vote on Biden’s Cabinet choices until they are discharged out of committee.

McConnell in a memo to colleagues said that he wants Schumer to agree to keep the legislative filibuster, which requires most controversial bills to muster 60 votes to advance, as part of a power-sharing agreement. That demand could delay action on Biden’s nominees and agenda.

Holding an impeachment trial while the power-sharing agreement is in limbo could delay it even longer as a trial would inflame partisan tensions.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, on Tuesday accused Democrats of trying to divide her party by holding a trial for Trump after he leaves office.

She doesn’t think it’s constitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a former office holder.

“I’ve read arguments on both sides but he’s not our president after tomorrow so the only reason I can see is that Democrats want to further divide the nation and [I’m] asking President-elect Joe Biden, ‘Please, let’s move forward,’ ” Ernst said.

Some Democrats have expressed hope for a speedy trial.

“We could conduct a trial in a very, relatively, short time,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week.

“This article of impeachment is nothing like the previous articles of impeachment, which were highly complex, relied on multiple witnesses, multiple documents,” she said.

But Republicans are pouring water on the idea that the trial can be wrapped up in a couple days.

“The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days, respectively,” McConnell said last week. 

Tags Alex Padilla Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Impeachment Inauguration Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn Jon Ossoff Joni Ernst Kirsten Gillibrand Nancy Pelosi Raphael Warnock

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