Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump are set to begin the week of 8 February, with the former president facing charges of inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol.
The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, announced the schedule late Friday after reaching an agreement with Republicans.
Under the timeline, the House will transmit the impeachment article against Trump late on Monday, with initial proceedings Tuesday. From there, Trump’s legal team will have time to prepare the case before opening arguments begin in February.
Schumer said he and the Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, will iron out details about the timing and duration of the trial.
“The Senate will conduct a trial on the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer, said. “It will be a fair trial. But make no mistake, there will be a trial.”
Trump is the only president in history to be impeached twice. Conviction in the Senate, which would require a two-thirds majority vote, could prevent him from ever again holding public office.
While McConnell and others have expressed an openness to the charges facing Trump in his second impeachment trial, expectations are low that Democrats will find the votes they need to convict him.
Fifty Democrats and 17 Republicans will have to vote in favor of convicting and that’s not likely to happen, with many Republican senators indicating that they oppose the idea.
Yesterday, McConnell said he wanted Trump to have at least a week to prepare for the trial after the impeachment articles were presented to the Senate. But, in rejecting McConnell’s offer to delay transferring the articles from the House, Democrats did more than press the case against Trump. They also staked out a tough stance in an internal Senate power struggle, as the newly installed Joe Biden administration prepares to ask Republicans for support on initiatives including pandemic policy, economic relief and immigration reform.
McConnell and Republicans lost control of the Senate with a double loss in runoff elections in Georgia earlier this month. But McConnell has been fighting for advantage, refusing to approve a basic power-sharing agreement in a body now split 50-50, unless Schumer promised to retain a Senate filibuster rule that enables the minority party to block legislation with only 41 votes.
Schumer rejected that pitch by McConnell on Friday, too, demanding that Republicans approve the organizing agreement, which would for example grant the parties an equal number of members on each committee, with no strings attached.
“Leader McConnell’s proposal is unacceptable – and it won’t be accepted,” Schumer said.
The pair of forceful moves by the Democratic leadership signaled an intention to deliver on a mandate they feel they won last November and displayed an unaccustomed assertiveness after four years of Trump and McConnell.
But the power plays also called more deeply into question whether Biden would benefit from any measure of Republican support as he attempts to answer multiple national crises.
The most fierce Trump supporters in the Senate have threatened to hold hostage every ounce of Biden’s agenda, including cabinet appointments, unless Democrats called off the impeachment trial.
“Democrats can’t have it both ways: an unconstitutional impeachment trial & Senate confirmation of the Biden administration’s national security team,” tweeted the Republican senator Ron Johnson, who until this week was chair of the homeland security committee. “They need to choose between being vindictive or staffing the administration to keep the nation safe. What will it be: revenge or security?”
Johnson’s explicit threat to hold national security hostage to a political agenda was not echoed by most colleagues, and the Senate proceeded with key Biden confirmations on Friday. The body overwhelmingly confirmed Lloyd Austin as the first African American defense secretary in history by a bipartisan vote of 93-2, and the Senate finance committee unanimously advanced the nomination of Janet Yellen to be treasury secretary.
The transmission of the article triggers the launching of trial proceedings. After the article of impeachment is transmitted, lawyers for Trump would be called on to submit a response from the president, and prosecutors from the House, known as impeachment managers, would submit pre-trial briefs.
Lawyers defending Trump will include Butch Bowers, a former justice department official recommended by Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator announced on Thursday. No lawyers from Trump’s impeachment trial last year were expected to return to his defense team.
When Trump was first impeached in December 2019, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, delayed the transfer of the case to the Senate in an effort to prolong Trump’s political pain and to win concessions on how Trump’s trial would be conducted.
But this time Pelosi moved quickly, her decision linked to an unusual number of moving parts with deep significance for the Biden administration and the future of the country.
Democrats might have concluded that it would be a mistake to bargain for Republican support for Biden’s agenda, the top item of which is a $1.9tn Covid relief and economic recovery package.
The Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a potential swing vote for Democrats, told reporters on Thursday that Biden’s plan was “premature”.
The government watchdog group Fix Our Senate on Friday blasted McConnell for linking support for an organizing agreement in the Senate to the filibuster.
“By threatening to filibuster a routine resolution that simply affirms that Democrats won the majority and can now lead committees,” said group spokesman Eli Zupnick, “Senator McConnell has made it crystal clear, to anyone with any remaining doubts, that his only goal is to undermine, delay and block the Biden agenda that the American people just voted for.”
Maanvi Singh and agencies contributed reporting