WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is likely to start after Joe Biden’s inauguration, and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is telling senators their decision on whether to convict the outgoing president over the Capitol riot will be a “vote of conscience.”
The timing for the trial, the first of a president no longer in office, has not yet been set. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear Friday that Democrats intend to move swiftly on President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID aid and economic recovery package to speed up vaccinations and send Americans relief. Biden is set to take the oath of office Wednesday.
Pelosi called the recovery package a “matter of complete urgency.”
The uncertainty of the scheduling, despite the House’s swift impeachment of Trump just a week after the deadly Jan. 6 siege, reflects the fact that Democrats do not want the Senate trial proceedings to dominate the opening days of the Biden administration.
With security on alert over the threat of more potential violence heading into the inauguration, the Senate is also moving quickly to prepare for confirming Biden’s nominee for National Intelligence Director, Avril Haines. A committee hearing is set for the day before the inauguration, signaling a confirmation vote to install her in the position could come swiftly once the new president is in office.
Many Democrats have pushed for an immediate impeachment trial to hold Trump accountable and prevent him from holding future office, and the proceedings could still begin by Inauguration Day. But others have urged a slower pace as the Senate considers Biden’s Cabinet nominees and the newly Democratic-led Congress considers priorities like the coronavirus plan.
Biden’s incoming White House press secretary, Jen Psaki said Friday the Senate can do both.
“The Senate can do its constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the people,” she said.
Psaki noted that during Trump’s first impeachment trial last year, the Senate continued to hold hearings each day. “There is some precedent,” she said.
When his second trial does begin, House impeachment managers say they will be making the case that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric hours before the bloody attack on the Capitol was not isolated, but rather part of an escalating campaign to overturn the November election. It culminated, they will argue, in the Republican president’s rally cry to “fight like hell” as Congress was tallying the Electoral College votes to confirm he’d lost to Biden.
For Republican senators, the trial will be a perhaps final test of their loyalty to the defeated president and his legions of supporters in their states back home, and their own experiences sheltering at the Capitol as a pro-Trump mob ransacked the building and attempted to overturn Biden’s election. It will force a further re-evaluation of their relationship with the defeated president, who lost not only the White House but majority control of the Senate.
McConnell, who has spent the past days talking to senators and donors, is telling them the decision on whether or not to convict Trump is theirs alone — meaning the leadership team will not work to hold senators in line one way or the other.
McConnell is open to considering impeachment, having told associates he is done with Trump, but he has not signaled how he would vote. McConnell continues to hold great sway in his party, even though convening the trial next week could be among his last acts as majority leader as Democrats prepare to take control of the Senate with the seating of two new Democratic senators from Georgia.