Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment charging Donald Trump with inciting insurrection to the Senate on Monday, setting the stage for a trial to begin in the first full week of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Chuck Schumer, the newly minted Democratic Senate majority leader, said on Friday morning that he had spoken to Ms Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, about the delivery of the impeachment article. The upper chamber of Congress is constitutionally required to start the trial at 1pm the day after it is received.
“Make no mistake, a trial will be held in the United States Senate, and there will be a vote whether to convict the president,” Mr Schumer said on Friday.
Ms Pelosi later released a statement confirming her plans.
The move by congressional Democrats to press ahead with the trial complicates a legislative calendar filled with votes to confirm Mr Biden’s cabinet nominees, as well as consideration of the new president’s ambitious proposals for nearly $2tn in additional economic relief to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Biden on Friday afternoon appeared to suggest he would prefer delaying the trial, telling reporters at the White House: “I do think that having some time to get our administration up and running . . . the more time we have to get up and running to meet these crises, the better.”
The new president has previously suggested the Senate could “bifurcate” its responsibilities, by spending half of each day focused on the trial and the other half on legislative priorities.
Mr Trump last week became the first president in US history to be impeached for a second time, after all of the Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to charge him with inciting an insurrection over his role in the violent siege on Capitol Hill on January 6. Mobs of the president’s supporters stormed the legislative complex in a melee that left five people, including a Capitol police officer, dead.
Mr Trump is only the third president since America’s founding to face an impeachment trial, and he would be the first to do so after he has left office. Some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether it is constitutional to hold a trial when Mr Trump is no longer in the White House, but legal scholars agree that there is precedent, including the cases of several federal judges who faced impeachment trials after resigning.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that a president or any official could commit a heinous crime against our country and then be permitted to resign so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disbar them from future office,” Mr Schumer said on Friday.
Mr Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, became Senate majority leader this week after Mr Biden’s inauguration and the swearing-in of vice-president Kamala Harris and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, whose victories in hotly contested run-offs this month tipped the balance of power in the Senate to Democrats by the smallest possible margin. The upper chamber of Congress is split, 50-50, with Ms Harris in a position to cast a tiebreaking vote.
That has resulted in the demotion of Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, to Senate minority leader. He and Mr Schumer are locked in negotiations over an “organising resolution” to govern how the Senate will operate given the equal numbers in the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
The Senate has only been split down the middle once before, in 2001. That arrangement lasted for half a year, until Jim Jeffords, a senator from Vermont, left the Republican party and began caucusing with the Democrats.
Mr McConnell, who was largely loyal to Mr Trump for his four years in the White House, has blamed the former president for the attack on Capitol Hill, saying earlier this week that he “provoked” and “fed lies” to the rioters. The minority leader has left the door open to voting to convict the president in his trial.
Mr McConnell has also taken issue with the speed at which Democrats are moving, and proposed this week delaying the trial until at least the middle of next month.
“Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defence and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal and constitutional questions at stake,” Mr McConnell said on Friday.
Mr Trump has been out of the public eye since Wednesday morning, when he snubbed Mr Biden’s inauguration and flew to his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida.
Mr McConnell and Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and a staunch ally of Mr Trump, told GOP lawmakers on Thursday that Mr Trump had hired Butch Bowers, a South Carolina-based attorney, to represent him in the impeachment trial.