McConnell: Trump impeachment trial to start after Biden sworn in

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that President Trump’s second impeachment trial will not start until at least next week, formally rejecting calls to return the Senate to Washington early. 

“The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President. The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following receipt of the article from the House,” McConnell said in a statement. 

He added that “there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial” could be wrapped up before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in Jan. 20, even if he were to agree with a request from Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) to return the Senate to Washington, D.C., early to start the trial. 

“This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The President-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency,” McConnell said. 

The Senate is out of session until Jan. 19, a day before Biden will be sworn in.

Under a memo circulated by McConnell late last week, the earliest the Senate could begin consideration of the impeachment articles is at 1 p.m. either on Jan. 20, the day Biden is sworn in, or Jan. 21, the day after he is sworn in. 

It will take a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict Trump. No Republican senator has said yet that they will support doing so, but Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has said he’s open to considering articles of impeachment passed by the House. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have also called on Trump to resign, something he is unlikely to do. 

Underscoring the shifting happening within the party, McConnell, in a letter to Republicans on Wednesday, didn’t close the door on ultimately voting to convict Trump, saying he was waiting to hear the evidence. 

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote in the letter to the caucus. 

Several other GOP senators have said that Trump bears part of the responsibility of the attack on the Capitol. The president has spent weeks falsely claiming that the election was “rigged” and urged his supporters to march on the building amid the Electoral College vote. 

McConnell’s statement came minutes after the House voted on a bipartisan basis to impeach Trump for inciting violence a week after his supporters stormed the Capitol as Vice President Pence and Congress were counting Biden’s Electoral College win. 

Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, making it the most bipartisan impeachment vote held for a president. Trump is the only president to be impeached twice.  

McConnell’s announcement on the timing of the trial comes after his staff confirmed earlier Wednesday that he had rejected Schumer’s call to use authority granted to Senate leadership in 2004 to force the chamber to go back into session during a time of emergency.  

Schumer, in a statement after the House vote, vowed to hold a separate vote to prevent Trump from holding office in the future if there are enough votes to convict him, which would be a first for a president. 

“There will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate; there will be a vote on convicting the president for high crimes and misdemeanors; and if the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again,” Schumer said. 

“The president of the United States incited a violent mob against the duly elected government of the United States in a vicious, depraved and desperate attempt to remain in power. For the sake of our democracy, it cannot and must not be tolerated, excused, or go unpunished,” Schumer added. 

McConnell’s decision means the trial will not start until after Biden is sworn in. House Democrats have also not announced when they will deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate, a first step to triggering the start of the trial.  

McConnell, in his statement, argued that the federal government should instead remain focused on Biden’s inauguration, amid growing security concerns.  

“I believe it will best serve our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden Administration,” McConnell said. 

Updated at 5:24 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Charles Schumer Donald Trump Joe Biden Lisa Murkowski Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey

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