Opening arguments in the US Senate impeachment trial for Donald Trump over the US Capitol riot are to begin the week of Feb. 8, the first time a former US president will face such charges after leaving office.
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule on Friday evening after reaching an agreement with Republicans, who had pushed for a delay to give Trump a chance to organize his legal team and prepare a defense on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection.
The February start date also allows the Senate more time to confirm US President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominations and consider his proposed US$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package — top priorities of the new White House agenda that could become stalled during trial proceedings.
“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us, but healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability, and that is what this trial will provide,” Schumer said about the Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of pro-Trump supporters, which left five dead.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to send the article of impeachment late tomorrow, with senators sworn in as jurors on Tuesday, but opening arguments would move to February.
Trump’s impeachment trial would be the first of a US president no longer in office, an undertaking that his Senate Republican allies argue is pointless, and potentially even unconstitutional. Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account, even as they pursue Biden’s legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place — a violent attack on the Congress aimed at overturning an election.
If Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again.
The urgency for Democrats to hold Trump responsible was complicated by the need to put Biden’s government in place and start quick work on his COVID-19 aid package.
“The more time we have to get up and running ... the better,” Biden said on Friday in brief comments to reporters.
Republicans were eager to delay the trial, putting distance between the shocking events of the siege and the votes that will test their loyalty to the former president who still commands voters’ attention.
Negotiations between Schumer and US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were complicated, as the two are also in talks over a power-sharing agreement for the Senate, which is split 50-50, but in Democratic control because US Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
McConnell had proposed delaying the start and welcomed the agreement.
“Republicans set out to ensure the Senate’s next steps will respect former President Trump’s rights and due process, the institution of the Senate, and the office of the presidency,” McConnell’s spokesman Doug Andres said. “That goal has been achieved.”
Pelosi said that the nine House impeachment managers, or prosecutors, are “ready to begin to make their case” against Trump.
Trump’s team would have had the same amount of time since the House impeachment vote to prepare, Pelosi said.
Democrats say they can move quickly through the trial, potentially with no witnesses, because lawmakers experienced the insurrection first-hand.
One of the managers, US Representative Ted Lieu said that Democrats would rather be working on policy right now, but “we can’t just ignore” what happened on Jan. 6.
“This was an attack on our Capitol by a violent mob,” Lieu said. “It was an attack on our nation instigated by our commander in chief. We have to address that and make sure it never happens again.”
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