WASHINGTON (AP) — Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for former US president Donald Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection for the Capitol riot will begin the week of February 8.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule Friday evening after reaching an agreement with Republicans, who had pushed to delay the trial to give Trump a chance to organize his legal team and prepare a defense.
Trump will be the first former president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office.
Under the timeline, the House will transmit the impeachment article against Trump late Monday, with initial proceedings Tuesday, but opening arguments will be pushed to February, which also allows the Senate time to confirm President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominations and consider the COVID-19 relief bill.
“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us,” Schumer said about the deadly Capitol siege.
“But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability. And that is what this trial will provide.”
Unlike any in history, Trump’s impeachment trial would be the first of a US president no longer in office, an undertaking that his Senate Republican allies argue is pointless, and potentially even unconstitutional. Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account, even as they pursue Biden’s legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place — a violent attack on the US Congress aimed at overturning an election.
If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again, potentially upending his chances for a political comeback.
The urgency to hold Trump responsible is somewhat complicated by Democrats’ simultaneous need to get Biden’s government in place and start quick work on his coronavirus aid package. The trial could halt Senate work on those priorities.
“The more time we have to get up and running… the better,” Biden said Friday in brief comments to reporters.
The timing and details of the Senate trial eventually rest on negotiations between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the nine House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, are “ready to begin to make their case” against Trump. Trump’s team will have had the same amount of time since the House impeachment vote to prepare, Pelosi said.
Democrats say they can move quickly through the trial, potentially with no witnesses, because lawmakers experienced the insurrection first-hand.
One of the managers, California Representative Ted Lieu, said Friday that Democrats would rather be working on policy right now, but “we can’t just ignore” what happened on January 6.
“This was an attack on our Capitol by a violent mob,” Lieu said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It was an attack on our nation instigated by our commander in chief. We have to address that and make sure it never happens again.”
Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” just before they invaded the Capitol earlier this month and interrupted the electoral vote count, is still assembling his legal team.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday deferred to Congress on timing for the trial 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.
Trump, the first president to be impeached twice, is at a disadvantage compared with his first impeachment trial, in which he had the full resources of the White House counsel’s office to defend him.