WASHINGTON • The leaders of the US Senate have agreed to push back former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial by two weeks, giving the Chamber more time to focus on President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and Cabinet nominees before turning to the contentious showdown over Mr Trump.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said on Friday that the trial is set to begin in the week of Feb 8, an arrangement praised by the Chamber’s top Republican, Mr Mitch McConnell.
The House of Representatives is due to formally deliver to the Senate tomorrow the impeachment charge accusing Mr Trump of inciting an insurrection, a move that ordinarily would have triggered the beginning of the trial within a day.
The charge stems from Mr Trump’s incendiary speech to supporters before they stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 in a rampage that delayed the formal congressional certification of Mr Biden’s election victory and left five people dead, including a police officer.
Mr Schumer said the new timeline will allow the Senate to move quickly on key Biden appointees and other tasks while giving House lawmakers who will prosecute the case and Mr Trump’s team more time to prepare for the trial.
“During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as Cabinet nominations and the Covid relief Bill, which would provide relief for millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic,” Mr Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Mr Trump on Jan 13 became the first US president to have been impeached twice.
The Senate acquitted him last year in the previous trial focused on Mr Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Mr Biden and his son. Mr Trump’s presidential term ended last Wednesday.
Conviction in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote – meaning 17 of Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans would have to vote against him.
A conviction would clear the way for a second vote, requiring a simple majority, to bar Mr Trump from holding office again.
Mr Trump has said he may seek the presidency again in 2024.
Timeline of key deadlines
WASHINGTON • Former president Donald Trump’s trial in the US Senate will start in the week of Feb 8, following his impeachment in the House of Representatives earlier this month on a charge of inciting an insurrection.
The following is the agreement on the timeline:
• Jan 25: Exhibition of article of impeachment.
• Jan 26: Swearing-in of senators, issuance of summons.
• Feb 2: Due date for Mr Trump’s answer to article.
• Feb 2: Due date for House’s pre-trial brief.
• Feb 8: Due date for Mr Trump’s pre-trial brief.
• Feb 8: Due date for House’s reply to Mr Trump’s answer to article.
• Feb 9: Due date for House’s pre-trial rebuttal brief (Trial can begin)
His fate could depend on Mr McConnell, whose position is likely to influence other Republicans.
Mr McConnell said last week that the mob that attacked the Capitol was “fed lies” and “provoked by the president and other powerful people”.
And though Mr McConnell has not yet said how he would vote in the impeachment trial, he has indicated privately that he views the process as a potential means of ridding the Republican Party of its former standard-bearer.
Yet, with many in his party lining up against conviction already and the party’s right wing shouting for his resignation, Mr McConnell was proceeding carefully.
CNN reported that dozens of influential Republicans have been quietly lobbying for GOP members of Congress to impeach and convict Mr Trump.
“Mitch said to me he wants Trump gone,” one Republican member of Congress told CNN.
“It is in his political interest to have him gone. It is in the GOP’s (Grand Old Party) interest to have him gone. The question is, do we get there?”
A nine-point memo has reportedly been circulated among senior Republicans, saying “it is difficult to find a more anti-conservative outburst by a US president than Donald Trump the last two months”.
Mr William Barr, a Republican who stepped down last month after pushing back against Mr Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen from him, told the Associated Press (AP) that Mr Trump’s conduct was a “betrayal of his office and supporters”.
“Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable,” Mr Barr told AP.
Mr Trump, now installed at his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, had struggled to field a legal team willing to defend him, finally settling on Mr Butch Bowers of South Carolina.
While Mr Trump was defended at his first trial by White House counsel, private lawyers and leading constitutional experts, Mr Bowers appears to be handling the task more or less alone for now and must quickly familiarise himself with the case.
He has little high-profile experience in Washington, but has defended several Republican governors in his home state, including Mr Mark Sanford when he faced possible impeachment in 2009.