The impeachment trial of former United States President Donald Trump will begin on February 9 after Senate leaders reached an agreement over its date, reported The Washington Post on Friday. The proceedings to look into whether Trump started the January 6 Capitol building riots has been delayed by two weeks.
The agreement was reached between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The House of Representatives had on January 13 passed the impeachment article against Trump, who could be barred from holding public offices.
The leaders could have forced the Senate to begin the trial immediately. However, a delay is in favour of both the former and current presidents. Trump has been struggling to assemble a legal team and muster a defense, and President Joe Biden needs the Senate to confirm most of his Cabinet appointees.
The Senate’s 100 members will be sworn in as trial jurors after the trial begins, according to AFP. If the trial began immediately, all Senate business would have been interrupted.
Schumer said that in these two weeks before the trial begins, the Senate will act on Biden’s Cabinet nominations “and the Covid-19 relief bill which would provide relief for millions of American who are suffering during this pandemic”.
McConnell had on Thursday pushed for a three-week delay. However, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the next day announced their intention to deliver the impeachment papers on January 25 so that the proceedings could begin a day later. Later, Biden publicly called for a delay.
On Friday, Schumer said: “We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation’s history behind us, but healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability, and that is what this trial will provide.”
Doug Andres, a spokesperson for McConnell, said that the agreement was a win for due process and fairness. “Republicans set out to ensure the Senate’s next steps will respect former president Trump’s rights and due process, the institution of the Senate, and the office of the presidency,” he said. “That goal has been achieved.”
The Democrats, including Biden, have floated the idea that the Senate could come to an agreement to both conduct Trump’s trial and proceed with regular business simultaneously. However, Republicans have clarified that they are not interested in a split schedule. “Once we take the trial up, we have to do the trial,” Senator Lindsey Graham said. “If you want to impeach the president, we’re going to do it like we’ve always done it. We’re not going to split the day... That’s the business of the Senate once we go into it.”
While Senators from both sides have suggested keeping the impeachment trial short, Trump’s lawyers could seek to call witnesses and present evidence, extending the proceedings indefinitely. Senator John Barrasso said that once the trial begins, Biden’s chance to get a Cabinet in place will be done till the proceedings are over. “This basically stops President Biden in his tracks at a time when a number of Republicans believe that President Biden ought to be able to put a Cabinet in place,” he added.
The United States House of Representatives had impeached Trump on a single article for the “incitement of insurrection”. The Democrats had moved to impeach Trump in 2019 too, for pressuring the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up political dirt on Biden. He was, however, acquitted by the Senate, where the Republican Party had the majority.
So far, no US president has been removed from office through impeachment. Apart from Trump, Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 were previously impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
US Capitol violence
On January 6, hundreds of supporters of Trump stormed the Capitol complex in Washington DC, and clashed with the police as members of the Congress met to certify the results of the 2020 presidential elections, which Biden won. Five people died in the violence. At least 68 were arrested.
The incident triggered shock across the world. Several White House officials tendered resignations following the incident, while the demands for Trump’s removal from the top office grew.
After the violence, however, Trump conceded defeat to Biden. For months, he had peddled election conspiracy theories and claimed that the presidential poll was rigged.
Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States along with his Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday.