Will the Senate Really Take Up Donald Trump's Impeachment?

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Will the Senate Really Take Up Donald Trump's Impeachment?

A swift move by Pelosi to start the impeachment trial raises questions for Democrats who are prioritizing the president-elect’s agenda.

The timeline of President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial remains uncertain as the Senate came back from recess Tuesday to confirm a spate of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) provided no clear indication over when Democrats would formally transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate that charged Trump with “incitement of insurrection” for his lead in the riots on the U.S. Capitol building.

“In terms of the timing, as I mentioned, one week ago, on January 6th, there was an active insurrection perpetrated on the Capitol of the United States incentivized by the President of the United States,” Pelosi told reporters Friday. “One week later, Wednesday to Wednesday, that President was impeached in a bipartisan way by the House of Representatives. So urgent was the matter they’re now working on taking this to trial, and you’ll be the first to know when we announce that we’re going over there.”

If House Democrats decide to send over the article of impeachment, it would immediately trigger the start of the trial on the next day, according to Senate rules. And once the trial starts, it could obstruct all legislative procedure in the upper chamber when it hits the floor, potentially delaying Biden’s immediate agenda and confirmation of his Cabinet picks for the duration of the trial. Trump’s previous impeachment trial lasted nearly three weeks, with lawmakers working every day besides Sundays.

A swift move by Pelosi to start the impeachment trial raises questions for Democrats who are prioritizing the president-elect’s agenda. After all, Biden has introduced a massive coronavirus relief plan to soothe the public health and economic crises pummeling the nation, and he needs to get the confirmation of several Cabinet nominees that would help to ensure national security.

Biden has suggested that the Senate split its time between impeachment proceedings and other agenda items, a discussion that incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are expected to cover in their in-person talks Tuesday, since the upper chamber will be evenly divided at 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris being the tie-breaking vote. But if Pelosi ultimately continues to hold off the impeachment article so that the Biden administration can get started on legislation, then consideration of a split framework in the upper chamber is not necessary.

“Well, we have the trial of the president. That’s mandated by law,” Schumer said in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday. “Second, there’s a very, very real need for President Biden to have in place key people in his Cabinet, the people in charge of national security, the people in charge of domestic security, the people in charge of making sure everyone gets vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Schumer added, “And third, this country is in the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, the greatest health care crisis since the Spanish pandemic flu 100 years ago, and we must pass more relief for the American people. We must do all three and we have to do them all quickly. One cannot stand in the way of the other.”

Other Democrats recommended that the House should wait until after the new administration’s first 100 days to send the article to the Senate.

While Pelosi’s deputies noted that she would send the article to the Senate “soon,” experts say that they anticipate the Speaker will wait until Biden’s agenda takes course before igniting a fiery trial.

“It is a certainty that Speaker Pelosi will transmit the articles of impeachment. She fervently believes that Trump should be impeached and further that he be barred from a future office of trust under the Constitution,” Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said, adding, “Speaker Pelosi also does not want to upstage the Biden-Harris inauguration so she will wait for the proper amount of time to elapse before transmitting the articles. An inauguration without further distraction is her paramount objective; the impeachment and disqualification are important but less urgent.”

Norman J. Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, also expects that Pelosi will send the article of impeachment of the Senate, but noted that “there is no deadline to do so.” Instead, she “will do it when it is clear that the Senate can handle an impeachment trial, the confirmation process and the immediate legislative needs all at the same time.”

In order to convict the president, though, a two-thirds supermajority is needed, or sixty-seven senators. In a fifty-fifty divided upper chamber, the party will need to rally the support from seventeen Republicans, a figure that seems like a far reach, since no GOP Senator has formally come forward to say they would convict Trump.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did, however, say that the House acted “appropriately” in impeaching Trump, raising the possibility of siding with colleagues on the other side of the aisle in a future trial.

“I will do what I am required and entrusted to do as a senator, as effectively listening to that trial and that proceeding, and I will make that determination at that time,” Murkowski told Alaska’s KTUU-TV on Wednesday. “But what I will tell you is that what I believe is that this president has committed an impeachable offense through his words on the 6th of January, and leading up to the 6th of January, when he was not honest to the American people about the election and the election results.”

Regardless of when Democrats send the article to the other side of the Capitol, it will interfere with Biden’s initial days of his presidency, potentially jeopardizing a rapid recovery from the several crises that have greatly impacted the United States.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.

Image: Reuters.