The Senate trial of President Trump is threatening to overshadow the first month of President-elect Joe Biden’s administration — if it’s not, as some have suggested, tabled until later.
President Trump was impeached a second time by the House of Representatives on Wednesday in a largely party-line vote that saw a handful of Republicans join Democrats to blame the outgoing commander-in-chief for sparking last week’s Capitol siege.
The final vote was 232-197, with 10 Republicans crossing party lines and four Republicans not voting. Pelosi signed the resolution shortly after but has yet to transmit it to the Senate for trial. .
If convicted, Trump could be banned from seeking the White House in 2024, and with many Republicans on the fence, the debate will draw significant attention.
Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who later this month will cede his title to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, said Wednesday that he has not decided how he will vote on impeachment.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
But much about the trial is unsettled. For instance, it’s unclear if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can delay the process by slowing transmittal of the single article of impeachment for allegedly inciting last week’s Capitol riot.
BIden called outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week to request that a trial take up only half days of Senate business to allow for the processing of nominees to cabinet posts during the same timeframe, should Pelosi transmit the impeachment article by the time the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 19, a day before Biden is sworn into office.
And McConnell said Wednesday that he will not call the Senate back into session before Jan. 19.
“I believe it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden Administration,” McConnell said in a statement.
“I am grateful to the offices and institutions within the Capitol that are working around the clock, alongside federal and local law enforcement, to prepare for a safe and successful inauguration at the Capitol next Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, another potential plan, floated by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), a close Biden ally who was crucial in propelling him to the forefront during the Democratic Primary race, would delay the trial for months to help Biden pass his initial policies during his first 100 days in office. For example, Biden is unveiling on Thursday night a proposed $1.5 trillion COVID-19 stimulus and recovery plan, which would have to pass Congress.
“Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running,” Clyburn, the No. 3 ranking House Democrat, told CNN Sunday. “And maybe we will send the articles some time after that.”
But such a delay might not happen.
“While the timeline is largely unclear, there is a likelihood that it would happen within the first couple of weeks” of Biden’s presidency, a source close to the impeachment process told The Post.
The half-day plan for a trial could work because “the agenda matters just as much as holding the president to account,” the source said.
Many details of Trump’s trial are uncertain — including whether Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside, as Trump no longer will be a sitting president under the earliest possible version of a Senate trial.
It’s also unclear who would represent Trump, and the degree to which impeachment managers will attempt to blame Republicans at large for Trump’s conduct, which could heighten partisanship, hindering legislation.
Trump’s first impeachment trial last year took 21 days — many of them full of repetitive presentations from impeachment managers arguing Trump obstructed Congress and abused his power when he asked Ukraine to investigate Democrats including Hunter Biden. In that trial, Trump’s acquittal was a foregone conclusion due to the two-thirds requirement to convict.
McConnell said Wednesday that he’s undecided on whether to convict Trump this time, signaling to Republicans it’s okay to break ranks. The hallway outside McConnell’s office was the scene of an intense fight between pro-Trump rioters and police. At least two officers were evacuated through the area after appearing to have been sprayed with fire extinguishers as police struggled to hold a line feet from McConnell’s door.
Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is McConnell’s wife, was the first member of Trump’s cabinet to resign over the riot.
But an impeachment conviction would still be a very tough sell as 17 Republicans would have to side with the Democrats to reach the 2/3 majority needed.
And there are sure to be arguments over whether such a trial could even take place once the president has left office, a point raised Thursday by one Republican senator.
“The House has passed an article of impeachment against the president, but the Senate under its rules and precedents cannot start and conclude a fair trial before the president leaves office next week,” Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said.
“Under these circumstances, the Senate lacks constitutional authority to conduct impeachment proceedings against a former president.”
Pelosi’s office did not immediately return a request for comment regarding when she will formally transmit the article of impeachment — for alleged incitement of insurrection — to the Senate to begin the process.