Trump’s Impeachment Trial in Limbo as Pelosi, McConnell Remain Silent

(Bloomberg) -- A day after the House impeached President Donald Trump for a second time there is still little clarity on when his trial would take place or what form it would take.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who signed the single article of impeachment Wednesday night, hasn’t said anything about her schedule for transmitting it to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, also have been publicly silent about how the Senate, which will be in nominal Democratic control after Inauguration Day, will be handling the unprecedented case of trying a president on impeachment charges after he leaves office.

How all that plays out will have major implications for President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to be sworn-in six days from now. A Senate trial for Trump, which could begin no sooner than Jan. 20, risks delaying confirmation of Biden’s cabinet nominees and early legislative initiatives.

Also hanging in balance is the change of Senate control, as Vice President Kamala Harris is replaced in the chamber by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff await state certification of their victories in Georgia’s runoff election.

The nine House Democrats who Pelosi appointed as impeachment managers to prosecute the case declined on Thursday to discuss what, if anything, they know about the timing for sending the article to the Senate. Pelosi will face questions about her strategy at her regularly scheduled news conference on Friday.

Democratic Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, a House impeachment manager, told reporters Thursday that she didn’t know whether the Senate trial might last days, or weeks.

“It’s one article of impeachment and, I mean, it’s like, you see the president on TV inciting people to come up and try to stop the counting,” DeGette said. “So, it’s pretty easy facts, but on the other hand, there were a lot of things that happened.”

Representative James Clyburn, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, is continuing to press for delaying the trial to allow Biden time to put his administration together.

But Representative Ted Lieu, a co-sponsor of the impeachment article and one of the House managers, said Thursday that the Senate should convene in an emergency session now and “have the trial as soon as possible.”

“They could have a trial on Friday,” Lieu said on MSNBC. “They could have it next Monday. So we’re calling for Senator McConnell to bring the Senate in so we can have the trial.”

As for any detailed or developing Democrat managers trial strategy, Lieu said, “I’m a former federal prosecutor, and one thing I want to say is we don’t discuss trial strategy in public.”

One House official said the risk of delaying a trial, as Clyburn suggests, is that it dilutes the argument for urgent action against Trump over his actions stoking the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. It also may make it even less likely that 17 Republicans would join with Democrats to get the two-thirds vote necessary for conviction, according to the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Biden made a plea for the Senate to divide its time between Trump’s trial and regular business, but McConnell hasn’t responded publicly and officials were still reviewing whether and how the chamber could do that.

After Trump’s first impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 18, 2019, the House didn’t transmit the articles until Jan. 15, 2020, a span of 27 days. That trial began Jan. 16, 2020. But opening arguments didn’t start until six days later as the Senate wrangled over witnesses and evidence. It concluded Feb. 5 with his acquittal, a span of almost three weeks.

The transmission of the impeachment articles then was creatively turned into a solemn procession through the Capitol led by the House clerk and sergeant-at-arms, and included the House managers. But it is not clear such an event will occur again this time, amid a Capitol filled with guardsman, security, and concerns about Covid-19 spread.

During the trial, House impeachment managers and the president’s defense each were given 24 hours of floor time spread over three days to make their arguments. Another 16 hours of time was given for senators to ask questions.

Much about Trump’s impeachment case is unprecedented, including holding the trial after he is out of office. Democrats will get more latitude in determining the course of events after Jan. 20. The Senate will be split 50-50, but Democrats will have control with Harris providing the tie-breaking vote.

Georgia officials expect to certify the victories by Warnock and Ossoff by inauguration day, though it’s still not clear how quickly they will be seated.

Padilla was appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom to take Harris’s seat in the Senate. A person familiar with the discussions on when he’ll join the Senate said that the plan calls for Padilla to be sworn in after Biden and Harris take the oath of office on Inauguration Day.