WASHINGTON – Opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial for Donald Trump over the Capitol riot will begin the week of Feb. 8, the first time a former president will face such charges after leaving office.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule Friday evening after reaching an agreement with Republicans, who had pushed for a delay to give Trump a chance to organize his legal team and prepare a defense on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection.
The February start date also allows the Senate more time to confirm President Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations and consider his proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief package – top priorities of the new White House agenda that could become stalled during trial proceedings.
“We all want to put this awful chapter in our nation's history behind us,” Schumer said about the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of pro-Trump supporters. “But healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability. And that is what this trial will provide.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the article of impeachment late Monday, with senators sworn in as jurors Tuesday. But opening arguments will move to February.
Trump's impeachment trial would be the first of a U.S. president no longer in office, an undertaking that his Senate Republican allies argue is pointless and potentially unconstitutional. Democrats say they have to hold Trump to account, even as they pursue Biden's legislative priorities, because of the gravity of what took place – a violent attack on the U.S. Congress aimed at overturning an election.
If 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 for Democrats to hold Trump responsible was complicated by the need to put Biden's government in place and start quick work on his coronavirus aid package.
“The more time we have to get up and running ... the better,” Biden said Friday in brief comments to reporters.
Republicans were eager to delay the trial, putting distance between the shocking events of the siege and the votes that will test their loyalty to the former president who still commands voters' attention.
Negotiations between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were complicated, as the two are also in talks over a power-sharing agreement for the Senate, which is split 50-50 but in Democratic control because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
McConnell had proposed delaying the start and welcomed the agreement.