Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sees the writing on the wall and knows there could be a second round of impeachment shortly. But in a memo to Republican senators, McConnell explained why an impeachment trial likely wouldn’t begin until after President Donald Trump leaves office.
The Senate is not scheduled to reconvene for substantive business until Jan. 19. Although the Senate is scheduled to meet twice next week it can’t do anything substantial on those days, including “beginning to act on received articles of impeachment from the House,” without the unanimous agreement of all 100 senators. “It would require the consent of all 100 senators to conduct any business of any kind during the scheduled pro forma sessions prior to January 19, and therefore the consent of all 100 senators to begin acting on any articles of impeachment during those sessions,” the memo states. Considering Trump still has more than a few allies in the Senate that seems highly unlikely.
In the most likely scenario, if the House does impeach Trump that means the Senate would formally receive the notification on Jan. 19, McConnell said. The Senate could then call on House managers to present the articles of impeachment that same day. According to the Senate rules for impeachment proceedings, at 1 p.m. on the day after the articles of impeachment are exhibited, the Senate must then consider them. That means if everything goes quickly the trial would only begin around one hour after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office. “The Senate trial would therefore begin after President Trump’s term has expired—either one hour after its expiration on Jan. 20, or twenty-five hours after its expiration on Jan. 21,” according to McConnell’s memo.
One point that remains unclear is who would preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate. Normally Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over the trial but considering Trump would no longer be a sitting president it is “unclear” whether his role would remain the same, according to the memo.
Some Democrats are concerned that moving forward with impeachment could end up distracting from Biden’s first days in office. “We have to put our government together quickly—that’s the most important thing we should do,” Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said. “We don’t need any more political theater.” Biden didn’t directly weigh in on the issue saying that it’s up to Congress to decide what to do but he did say he was more interested in focusing his energies on his own presidency. “If we were six months out, we should be moving everything to get him out of office — impeaching him again, trying to invoke the 25th Amendment, whatever it took to get him out of office,” Biden said. “But I am focused now on us taking control as president and vice president on the 20th and get our agenda moving as quickly as we can.”