House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would send the Senate an article of impeachment charging former President Donald Trump with inciting an insurrection “soon,” but Republicans are suggesting a delay until February.
“I’m not going to be telling you when it is going,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday, while negotiations continued over a trial. “The other questions are about how a trial would proceed. We are ready.”
A source familiar with the plan, but not authorized to speak on the record, said the article could be sent Friday, setting the stage for a trial Monday. The plan may be subject to change, the source said.
But Republicans are urging a delay in the start of the trial until February, to give Trump time to develop his defense. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed the delay, but said late Thursday he hadn’t received a Democratic response.
“At this time of strong political passions, Senate Republicans believe it is absolutely imperative that we do not allow a half-baked process to short-circuit the due process that former President Trump deserves or damage the Senate or the presidency,” McConnell said in a statement.
The timing of the trial has been uncertain because the Senate trial may distract the chamber from confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees and debating his legislative agenda. But Democrats are also eager to put the trial behind them.
Pelosi declined a chance to be more precise about timing on Thursday, saying she would meet with House members who will serve as prosecutors, called managers.
“It will be soon,” Pelosi said. “I don’t think it will be long. But we must do it.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said a delay makes sense.
“The president was shut out in the House so his team needs some time to prepare,” Graham said. “I think it’s fair to everybody.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he has been meeting with McConnell to reach a bipartisan agreement about how to conduct the trial.
“But make no mistake about it,” Schumer said. “There will be a trial, there will be votes up or down on whether to convict the president.”
Trump is charged with encouraging rioters who laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and then stormed through the halls, smashing doors, windows and antiques along the way.
Trump has said his speech that morning encouraged peaceful protest as Congress counted the Electoral College votes confirming Biden’s victory. But lawmakers experienced the result firsthand, evacuating their chambers and then picking through the wreckage afterward. Members of both parties have blamed Trump for the riot.
Pelosi said the crimes in the latest impeachment were more obvious than in Trump’s first impeachment, which dealt partially on the interpretation of a phone call he had with the Ukrainian president.
“He roused the troops, he urged them on to fight like hell, he sent them on their way to the Capitol, he called upon lawlessness, he showed a path to the Capitol, and the lawlessness took place,” Pelosi said. “This year, the whole world bore witness to the president’s incitement to the execution of his call to action and the violence that was used.”
But Graham suggested that Trump should make an argument that the trial is unconstitutional because he’s no longer in office. Graham also said wasn’t sure the Senate could hear evidence that wasn’t present for the House so it should be “a quick trial.”
“I don’t think he believes he played a role in the defiling of the Capitol,” Graham said. “I think the argument that the election was stolen was overdone and got people ginned up, I think he’s responsible for that, but people’s decision to come here and take over the place, that lies with them.”
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Once the article arrives, the trial becomes the Senate’s first order of business. But the Senate must decide how to hold the trial.
McConnell suggested a timeline of having House prosecutors present the article of impeachment on Jan. 28, with Trump’s team having until Feb. 4 to respond. Trump would then have until Feb. 11 to submit his pre-trial brief and House prosecutors would have two days to rebut it by Feb. 13.
One option is to hold an expedited trial without witnesses. But even that could take weeks. Rushing a trial too quickly raises qualms even among Democrats about giving Trump enough opportunity to defend himself.
“That final decision isn’t even close,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant majority leader, told reporters Thursday.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Trump’s lawyers and House prosecutors could agree to most of the facts of the case and debate the legal questions entirely.
“We’re free to set our own standards of proof,” Coons said of the Senate. “The rules of evidence are not the standard court rules of evidence. It’s a sort of neither fish nor fowl.”
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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said “it would be great” if there were witnesses and more evidence. Manchin also said Trump must be allowed to defend himself properly.
“The bottom line is you better make sure that the president’s able to have a robust defense for himself,” Manchin said. “If they try to rush it through I think it’d be a big mistake. I think it should be done in a very deliberate manner to make sure everyone on both sides can have their position.”
Republicans also contend that no trial is needed because Trump has left office and already suffers the shame of being impeached twice.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told reporters Tuesday that it would be magnanimous to avoid a trial because removing Trump is no longer necessary. He said Democrats have already made an emphatic statement by impeaching him twice.
“I do not at this point see an impeachable offense that would rise to the constitutional level that we’ve looked at,” Wicker said.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said a trial would only further divide the nation.
“We need to start healing,” she said.
But Pelosi said abandoning a trial wouldn’t promote unity because it would offer any future president a get-out-of-jail-free card to do whatever they want during the final months of a term.
“Just because he’s gone – thank God – you don’t say to a president do whatever you want in the last months of an administration,” Pelosi said. “I think that would be harmful to unity.”
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Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said another important prospect from the trial – if Trump is convicted – is to potentially block him from holding future office.
“Whether somebody resigns, or runs out the clock it makes no difference,” Blumenthal said. “They can still be held accountable and there’s nothing in the spirit, or the letter of the impeachment provisions in the Constitution that argues against it.”
Another question is whether the Senate could hold the trial for part of each day and then review nominees and legislation during other parts of each day.
“My clear preference is to leave room for nominations and legislation,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters Tuesday.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has said the trial will be the only Senate business because it would require unanimous consent – which is unlikely – to conduct other business.
“That’s not going to be possible,” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday.