Trump Senate impeachment trial delayed until February

The two-week delay will allow Congress to focus on approving President Joe Biden's Cabinet picks and advancing Covid-19 relief action

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 20, 2021, utgoing US President Donald Trump addresses guests at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.  Donald Trump will face an impeachment trial in the Senate over the ransacking of the US Capitol after the impeachment article against the former president is sent to the chamber on January 25, 2021, its Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced. / AFP / ALEX EDELMAN
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Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection for the January 6 Capitol riot will begin in February.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule late Friday after reaching an agreement with Republicans.

"Once the briefs are drafted, presentation by the parties will commence the week of February 8," Mr Schumer told colleagues on the Senate floor.

Under the timetable, the House of Representatives will send the article of impeachment against Mr Trump to the Senate on Monday night, with initial proceedings on Tuesday.

"The article of impeachment for incitement of insurrection by Donald Trump will be delivered to the Senate on Monday, January 25," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The House impeached Mr Trump for a historic second time on January 13, one week before he left office, but Ms Pelosi has yet to send the article of impeachment to the Senate. The step is necessary in order to launch the trial process.

Mr Trump was impeached on a single charge of "incitement of insurrection" for his role in whipping up supporters during a speech in Washington on January 6. After he spoke, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol with deadly consequences.

From when impeachment is passed over to the Senate on Monday, Mr Trump’s legal team will have time to prepare the case before opening arguments begin in February.

"A trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote whether to convict the president," Mr Schumer told his colleagues.

Unlike any in history, Mr 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 Mr Trump to account, even as they pursue President Joe Biden’s legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place – a violent attack on the US Congress aimed at overturning an election.

If Mr Trump is convicted, the Senate could vote to bar him from holding office ever again, potentially upending his chances for a political comeback.

The urgency to hold Trump responsible is somewhat complicated by Democrats’ simultaneous need to put Mr Biden’s government in place and start quick work on his coronavirus aid package. The trial could delay Senate work on those priorities.

"The more time we have to get up and running … the better," Mr Biden said on Friday.

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, severely reprimanded the outgoing president and left the door open for voting to convict Mr Trump.

He had sought a delay in an impeachment trial until February, however,  arguing Mr Trump needs time to hire lawyers and mount a defence.

“We are respectful of the Senate’s constitutional power over the trial and always attentive to the fairness of the process, noting that the former president will have had the same amount of time to prepare for trial as our managers," Ms Pelosi said.

"Our managers are ready to begin to make their case to 100 Senate jurors through the trial process."

On Friday, Mr McConnell, the Senate minority leader, acknowledged the Democrats' timetable.

"As I understand, it must be headed our way Monday. By Senate rules, if the article arrives, we have to start a trial right then," he said on the floor.

Mr McConnell spoke of the "unprecedentedly fast" process in the House, where Mr Trump was impeached in a single day.

"The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former president Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself," he said.

He also said that delaying the trial would have provided time for the Senate to confirm members of Mr Biden's Cabinet and consider crucial legislation like a coronavirus pandemic rescue package.

It is unclear whether the Senate will vote to convict former president.

Democrats would need the support of at least 17 Republicans to convict Mr Trump, a high bar. While most Republican senators condemned Mr Trump’s actions that day, far fewer appear to be ready to convict.

A handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they are open – but not committed – to conviction. But most have come to Mr Trump’s defence as it relates to impeachment, saying they believe a trial will be divisive and questioning the legality of trying a president after he has left office.