House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered no clues regarding taking up President Donald Trump’s impeachment with the Senate but made it clear that Democrats intend to move swiftly on Joe Biden's legislative priorities, including funding for coronavirus vaccines and relief aid.
Pelosi said Biden's proposed USD1.9 trillion coronavirus plan to speed up vaccines and economic aid is a “matter of complete urgency," suggesting it could take precedence over Trump's historic second impeachment trial. “You'll be the first to know when we announce that we're going over there,” she told reporters at the Capitol when asked about the trial on Friday.
The uncertainty reflects the fact that Democrats do not want the Senate proceedings to dominate the opening days of the Biden administration even amid deep anger over the violent January 6 siege by Trump supporters at the Capitol that led to the House's second vote to impeach the president.
Many Democrats have pushed for an immediate trial, and the proceedings could begin by Inauguration Day if Pelosi sends the article to the Senate by early next week. 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.
Pelosi told reporters on Friday that her nine impeachment managers, who act as the prosecutors for the House, are working on taking the case to trial.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will replace McConnell and lead a 50-50 Senate as soon as Georgia's two Democratic senators-elect are sworn in and Biden is inaugurated, making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the president of the Senate and the tiebreaker.
Biden has said the Senate should be able this time to split its work, starting the trial and working on legislation and confirmations.
Trump is the only president to be twice impeached, and the first to be prosecuted as he leaves the White House, an ever-more-extraordinary end to the defeated president's tenure. He was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit.
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 Democrat Joe Biden.
Whenever it starts, the impeachment trial will force a further reckoning for the Republican Party and the senators who largely stood by Trump throughout his presidency and allowed him to spread false attacks against the 2020 election. Last week's assault angered lawmakers, stunned the nation and flashed unsettling imagery around the globe, the most serious breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812, and the worst by home-grown intruders.
House impeachment managers, all lawyers and some of Pelosi's closest allies, have argued that while it is important to turn a new page with the Biden presidency, it is also crucial to reckon with the January 6 violence in the Capitol.
“The only path to any reunification of this broken and divided country is by shining a light on the truth,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., who will serve as an impeachment manager. “That's what the trial in the Senate will be about," she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Trump was impeached Wednesday by the House on the single charge, incitement of insurrection, in lightning-quick proceedings just a week after the siege. Ten Republicans joined all Democrats in the 232-197 vote to impeach.
McConnell is open to considering impeachment, having told associates he is done with Trump, but he has not signalled 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.
No president has ever been convicted in the Senate, and it would take a two-thirds vote against Trump, an extremely high hurdle. But conviction of Trump is not out of the realm of possibility, especially as corporations and wealthy political donors distance themselves from his brand of politics and the Republicans who stood by his attempt to overturn the election.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Thursday, “Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequence.” She said in a statement that the House responded “appropriately” with impeachment and she will consider the trial arguments.
At least four Republican senators have publicly expressed concerns about Trump's actions, but others have signalled their preference to move on. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., issued a statement saying he opposes impeachment against a president who has left office. Trump ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is building support for launching a commission to investigate the siege as an alternative to conviction.
The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Biden's victory as lawmakers fled for shelter and police, guns drawn, barricaded the doors to the House chamber.
A Capitol Police officer died from injuries suffered in the attack, and police shot and killed a woman. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.