This week: Senate starts Trump trial as Democrats draft coronavirus bill
The Senate will start a historic second impeachment trial of former President Trump this week, nearly five weeks after the Capitol attack.
The trial is set to start on Tuesday, with senators suggesting that it could wrap up in roughly a week.
The trial will put Trump, and divisions within the GOP about his future role in the party, back under the spotlight, eating up political oxygen even as the Biden administration is still trying to get off the ground.
As of Sunday night, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has offered no clues about the organization of the trial or its time frame as he’s continued to negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).
Trump’s first trial lasted 21 days. His second is expected to be considerably shorter, as both sides coalesce behind not trying to call witnesses and potentially moving to a final vote within a matter of days.
“I just can’t imagine that it’s going to go beyond a week,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told The Hill. “I don’t think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for this thing from anybody.”
The first phase of the 2020 trial lasted eight days: Three days per side for House impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers to present their case and two days for the Senate to ask questions. If the second trial follows a similar timeline that would guarantee that it lasts at least eight days.
But senators have also said they don’t believe they should be bound by the 2020 trial given the differences in the cases.
The 2020 trial involved two articles of impeachment and a complex case that required familiarizing both the public and the Senate with a large cast of characters involved with Trump’s policy decisions toward Ukraine.
This year’s trial, in contrast, has one article of impeachment that involves events that played out in public view in real time. Trump spoke near the White House on Jan. 6 urging his supporters to march to the Capitol, where then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were counting the Electoral College vote.
The attack on the Capitol was televised and footage from inside the building flooded social media during the riot.
The House impeachment managers invited Trump to testify under oath. Trump’s lawyers, however, rejected the request and the idea got bipartisan pushback from senators who warned it would result in chaos.
Sources told The New York Times that the House impeachment managers are preparing to skip trying to call witnesses and finish the trial in as little as a week.
Schumer’s office is expected to accommodate a request from one of Trump’s lawyers that the trial not be conducted on the Jewish Sabbath. Lawyer David Schoen asked that the trial be paused if not finished by Friday at 5:24 pm and then reconvene on Sunday.
Trump’s trial puts the Senate in the middle of murky political waters.
It’s the first impeachment trial for a president already out of office and the first presidential impeachment trial not to be overseen by the chief justice. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate president pro tem, will instead preside.
The trial is expected to hand Trump his second acquittal. Though Republicans fumed in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack, Democrats acknowledge they won’t get 67 votes after 45 GOP senators backed an effort questioning the constitutionality of holding a trial after a president leaves office.
GOP Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah) were the only Republicans who voted to table the effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). None have said how they will vote at the end of the trial.
McConnell has also sidestepped saying how he will vote.
“I want to listen to the arguments. I think that’s what we ought to do. That’s what I said before it started,” he told reporters last week. “That’s still my view.”
Democrats are moving quickly to craft a $1.9 trillion coronavirus package as they prepare to hold a vote in the House later this month.
Both chambers passed a budget resolution on Friday that greenlights passing coronavirus legislation through reconciliation — a tool that will let them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster, and the need for GOP support, in the Senate.
Though the House is out of session this week, the committees are expected to spend the week drafting legislation in line with President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal.
“Next week, we will be writing the legislation to create a path to final passage for the Biden American Rescue Plan, so that we can finish our work before the end of February. Thank you to our Chairs for their knowledge and values-based leadership and to our Members for their courage,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Friday.
Democrats will need to work out several internal divisions about the details of the bill as they prepare to move forward.
Though Democrats say they hope to have GOP support for the final bill, no Republican has signaled support for passing a $1.9 trillion package less than two months after Congress approved an additional $900 billion in coronavirus relief.
If Democrats try to pass a bill on their own they face a slim margin in the House and no room for error in the Senate, where they would need all of the 50-member Democratic caucus.
Democrats are debating tightening eligibility for the next round of stimulus checks.
Biden has proposed a $1,400 check, but has stayed away from laying down markers on income eligibility.
Under the previous rounds of payments individuals who made up to $75,000 and couples who made up to $150,000 received a full check, with the amount phasing down after that.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNN that Americans who make $60,000 should get a check.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), meanwhile, is proposing that individuals who make up to $50,000 and couples who make up to $100,000 should get a full check with the amount phasing down until it hits an income threshold of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples.
But progressives warned over the weekend against changing the income threshold for receiving a full payment.
“I strongly oppose lowering income eligibility for direct payments from $75,000 to $50,000 for individuals and $150,000 to $100,000 for couples. In these difficult times, ALL working class people deserve the full $1,400. Last I heard, someone making $55,000 a year is not ‘rich,’ ” tweeted Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The Senate will vote on Denis McDonough’s nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The vote, set for Monday at 5:30 p.m., will likely make McDonough the final Cabinet pick that Biden gets confirmed until after the impeachment trial is over. McDonough previously served as then-President Obama’s chief of staff.
Democrats had wanted to deal with nominations and legislation in the morning and the trial in the afternoon, but Republicans have signaled they will oppose that.