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Senate Leaders Agree on Delay of Impeachment Trial, Allowing Biden Breathing Space

Until February 9, the proposal will delay the historic hearings, allowing former President Donald J. Trump time to prepare his defense and allow President Biden to fill his cabinet and start working on his agenda. WASHINGTON-Senate leaders reached an agreement on Friday to postpone the impeachment t

Senate Leaders Agree on Impeachment Trial Delay, Giving Biden Breathing Room
Senate Leaders Agree on Impeachment Trial Delay, Giving Biden Breathing Room

Until February 9, the proposal will delay the historic hearings, allowing former President Donald J. Trump time to prepare his defense and allow President Biden to fill his cabinet and start working on his agenda.

WASHINGTON-Senate leaders reached an agreement on Friday to postpone the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump for two weeks, allowing President Biden time to appoint his cabinet and start pushing a legislative agenda before they start a dramatic process to try his predecessor.

The strategy means that the trial, which threatens to dredge up the ugly events of the final days of Mr. Trump in office and resurface deep tensions over his actions, will loom wide over the first days of Mr. Biden at the White House. But it will also allow the president to put in place key members of his team and drive a coronavirus help package forward that he has said is his top priority.

Democrats had started to fret that the rush to pursue Mr. Trump would subsume those steps.

“We all want to put behind us this terrible chapter in the history of our nation,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and leader of the majority. “But only if there is honesty and responsibility can healing and reconciliation come. And that is what will be provided by this trial.

Mr. Trump, the first president to be impeached twice and the only one ever to face trial after leaving office, is accused to “incitement of insurrection.” Last week, after Mr. Trump whipped up a crowd of his supporters who stormed the Capitol in a violent rampage on Jan. 6, the House accepted the accusation with bipartisan support.

On Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that at 7 p.m. the House impeachment managers would pass the charge to the Senate across the Capitol. Monday, and Mr. Schumer announced that the next day, senators will be sworn in as jurors. But the chamber will then delay until the week of Feb. 8 under Mr. Schumer’s agreement with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, to allow the prosecution and defense time to draft and exchange written legal briefs.

The Senate will continue to do other business for the American people throughout that time, such as cabinet appointments and the Covid relief bill, which will provide relief for millions of Americans suffering from this pandemic,” said Mr. Schumer.”

The agreement did not dictate how a trial would proceed once oral arguments began on Feb. 9, but both sides suggested that they were attempting to compact it into a few days, helping senators to reach a decision by the end of the week.

The delay represented a compromise between the two Senate party leaders, who have failed to agree on how the evenly split chamber should work in the days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Nevertheless, on Friday, the larger discord continued, hamstrung by a disagreement over the filibuster, which allows a minority to obstruct legislation.

The agreement to delay the trial has political benefits for Mr. McConnell, who has stated that he is open to convicting Mr. Trump and has privately indicated that he thinks the former president has committed impeachable offenses. It allowed him to argue that the process was rational, allowing the former president enough time to make his case, and to buy more time to weigh how they might vote for Mr. McConnell and other Republicans.

“Senate Republicans strongly believe that we need a complete and fair process where a defense can be mounted by the former president and the Senate can consider the factual, legal and constitutional issues at stake properly,” Mr. McConnell said.
Democrats weighed conflicting interests, including the agenda of Mr. Biden, as well as a desire to rapidly dispatch his predecessor’s trial and compel Republican senators to go on record with respect to the actions of Mr. Trump while the memories of the riot were still fresh.

After Mr. Biden said on Friday that he was in favor of doing so, they agreed to the delay as a way to keep the Senate focused on confirming members of his administration and starting work on the next federal coronavirus help round. The president has sought to keep the content of the trial clear.

“In order to meet these crises, the more time we have to get up and run, the better,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.
As part of the compromise, Mr. Schumer announced that the Senate would vote to confirm Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary nominee of Mr. Biden, just before Monday night’s impeachment article was to arrive.

It is almost unlikely that, before the trial began, the Senate will enact Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief initiative, a difficult piece of legislation that is likely to face strong Republican resistance. But Democrats were aiming to clear up some of the procedural obstacles needed to do so.

Mr. McConnell had initially suggested another week, until Feb. 15, to postpone the impeachment hearing. He cited the need for the legal team of Mr. Trump, just hired on Thursday, to plan to deliver a full defense. The deal was called “a win for due process and fairness,” by Doug Andres, Mr. McConnell’s spokesman.

Now settled in his private club in Palm Beach, Fla., Mr. Trump had struggled to field a legal team willing to represent him, ultimately deciding on South Carolina’s Butch Bowers.

Although Mr. Trump was defended by the White House counsel, private attorneys and leading constitutional experts at his first trial, for now, Mr. Bowers seems to be performing the job more or less alone and must familiarize himself with the case quickly. He has no high-profile experience in Washington, but in his home state he has defended many Republican governors, including Mark Sanford, when he faced potential impeachment in 2009.

The House managers said their case would be relatively straightforward in preparation for a potentially speedy trial, especially compared with Mr. Trump’s first impeachment trial. That process turned into a long and complicated campaign of presidential pressure on Ukraine, which took place largely out of public view.

In an interview, Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, one of the executives, said, “So much of what led to this incitement of violence was done in public, both in the behavior of the president, the words and the tweets, and it played out in real time for the American people on television.”

Mr. McConnell reprised the role he played in the first trial of Mr. Trump, representing the defense’s interests. But he made it clear this time, he’s not gunning for an acquittal.

This week, the Republican leader said the former president had “provoked” the crowd that invaded the Capitol. And while Mr. McConnell has not yet said how he will vote in the impeachment trial, he has privately suggested that he sees the procedure as a possible way to rid his former standard-bearer of the Republican Party.

Yet Mr. McConnell was moving cautiously, with those in his party already lining up against conviction and the right wing of the party shouting for his resignation.

It will take 17 Republicans to join all 50 Democrats to have Mr. Trump convicted. If they did, they could then continue to disqualify him on a simple majority vote from holding any potential office.

Several Republicans were already pointing to the pace of the procedure to argue for letting Mr. Trump go, arguing that the move of the House to impeach had been too hurried, which came exactly a week after the rampage of Jan. 6.

“It’s a serious issue, but it’s not a serious effort to comply with the Constitution’s due process requirements when it comes to impeachment,” said Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn.

Just as eager as Mr. McConnell, Senate Democrats were to ensure that the trial was viewed as fair, particularly among Republicans who they believe could conceivably agree to convict Mr. Trump. They listened carefully when Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the most virulent opponents of the former president who praised the impeachment of the House, said she considered the suggestion of Mr. McConnell’s delay to be ’eminently appropriate.’

Some Republicans argued that prosecuting a former president at all was illegal for the Senate because the Constitution only expressly provided for impeachments of present officeholders. Many legal experts disagree with that position, and the Senate itself did so when it felt that it had the right to judge a former war secretary in the 1870s.

“In anticipating their objection, Mr. Schumer said that the argument had been “absolutely repudiated, debunked by left, right and middle constitutional experts, and defied simple common sense.