Democrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats hope to conduct President Trump’s impeachment trial as swiftly as possible to avoid slowing the start of President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration, but Republicans have yet to show they will cooperate.

Senate Democrats are discussing the possibility of holding regular business on the floor before the chamber convenes the impeachment trial at noon or 1 p.m. each day, which would give them a chance to consider essential business such as a service waiver for Lloyd Austin, Biden’s choice to head the Defense Department, before the end of the trial.

Democrats want to move ahead with Biden’s agenda during the trial, which could last days. Failing that, there’s discussion about “working around the clock,” according to one Democratic aide, to complete the trial in a matter of days.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told MSNBC in an interview Thursday that the Senate could do so if needed to conduct a trial and legislate, echoing what Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that Democrats don’t see the need to spend a lot of time on Trump’s impeachment trial once he leaves office.

“This is a very simple allegation. It is incitement to insurrection. We could conduct a trial in a very short amount of time because the evidence that’s needed is pretty direct,” Gillibrand told anchor Andrea Mitchell.

“It’s President Trump’s own statements, it is how the violent mob reacted to those statements and that is the presentation of the case,” she added. “We could conduct a trial in a very, relatively, short time. This article of impeachment is nothing like the previous articles of impeachment, which were highly complex, relied on multiple witnesses, multiple documents.”

Gillibrand said the Senate could operate on a dual track if granted approval by the parliamentarian.

“We also could, if given the OK from the parliamentarian, conduct the trial at the same time we are putting through President Biden’s nominees for his Cabinet and for his government,” she said. “We could do both things at the same time. We could also be able to pass a very large COVID relief package in the immediate days.

“We could even address the impeachment trial after a few legislative days on President Biden’s most urgent priorities, which would include, of courses, money going to the cities and the states,” she said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hasn’t announced how long she plans to keep the article of impeachment in the House, which would delay the start of a Senate trial. That decision will be made in conjunction with Biden and Schumer.

Some Democratic senators are floating the idea of splitting each day into six hours of legislative business and six hours of an impeachment trial.

Schumer is trying to hammer out a resolution to establish the procedures of the trial with outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Schumer will become the new majority leader after Biden is sworn into office and the two Democratic winners of the Senate runoff races in Georgia are certified. He needs 51 votes to pass a resolution establishing any procedures for the trial not already set forth in the Senate impeachment rules.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) on Thursday said McConnell hasn’t agreed to anything yet.

“I called Chuck Schumer this morning. There’s been no exchange or conversation with Sen. McConnell about setting a specific time to begin the trial,” Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet The Press Daily.”

A spokesman for Schumer said, “We are working with Republicans to try to find a path forward.”

McConnell announced Wednesday that he will not agree to convene the Senate before it is scheduled to return from a recess on Jan. 19, which would be the soonest that the House impeachment managers could present the charges against Trump to the Senate.

McConnell noted in a public statement that impeachment trials usually take weeks.

“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” he said.

The GOP leader pointed out that the Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials in its histories. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days, respectively.

Under the Senate’s rules of impeachment, the legislative and executive business of the Senate shall be suspended at 12:30 p.m., a half hour before when the first day of the Senate trial begins. Subsequent days of the trial are to begin at noon under the Senate’s impeachment rules, although that time can be changed by consent. 

The Senate didn’t vote on any regular business after the chamber convened to hold Trump’s first impeachment trial on Jan. 16 of last year. On that day, senators received the House impeachment managers at noon and then proceeded to consider the articles of impeachment at 2 p.m.

Rule 13 of the procedures and practices of the Senate when sitting on impeachment trials states that the trial should begin each day at noon — or another time agreed to by all members of the body — but that once the presiding officer announces the adjournment of the trial at the end of the day, that shall not serve as the adjournment of the Senate and the chamber “shall resume the consideration of its legislative and executive business.”

That’s giving some Democratic senators hope that they will be able to process a waiver for Austin and advance the nominations of other Biden Cabinet picks while the Senate is not sitting in trial.

But getting senators to focus on regular business in the midst of an impeachment trial is a tall order and wasn’t attempted by Republicans when they controlled the chamber last year.

Once Trump’s first trial began a year ago, the only votes the Senate held were on procedural questions related to the trial until the president was acquitted in two final votes on the articles themselves.

A Democratic official said Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside over the trial since Trump will be out of office once the Senate begins consideration of the article of impeachment, which McConnell says cannot begin before 1 p.m. on Jan. 20. 

Tags 2022 midterms Bob Casey Capitol breach Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Lloyd Austin Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi

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