Mitch McConnell at Joe Biden's presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, US, on January 20 2021. Picture: POOL VIA REUTERS/MELINA MARA
Mitch McConnell at Joe Biden's presidential inauguration in Washington, DC, US, on January 20 2021. Picture: POOL VIA REUTERS/MELINA MARA

Washington — Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell challenged House speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay triggering an impeachment trial for Donald Trump until February, a timetable that may cool some of the bipartisan outrage that erupted over the former president’s stoking of the mob that stormed the Capitol two weeks ago.

McConnell laid out his proposal on Thursday as a matter of fairness to the former president, who is still assembling a defence team. But it also comes as negotiations he’s holding with majority leader Chuck Schumer on power-sharing in a 50-50 Senate drag on and most of President Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees are still waiting for confirmation.

Schumer said on Thursday night through a spokesperson that he would review McConnell’s proposal “and discuss it with him”. Pelosi hasn’t revealed when she plans to send the single article of impeachment to the Senate, which would start the march towards a trial. Officials in her office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Senate Republicans believe it is absolutely imperative that we do not allow a half-baked process to short-circuit the due process that former president Trump deserves or damage the Senate or the presidency,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Kentucky Republican’s proposal would give Trump time to prepare a defence and Biden time to get some of his appointments done, but is silent on how the trial itself would actually be conducted. There are still a lot of unknowns, including who would preside, how long the trial proper would take, and whether McConnell would try to block doing other business.

McConnell proposes that the process begin on January 28 and allow Trump a week to respond, with his pre-trial brief due the following week, February 11, according to a timeline included with his statement.

A second impeachment of president Trump is bad for the country and we’re gonna fight that
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

The House impeached Trump for the second time January 13 on one article of incitement of insurrection, with 10 Republicans joining all 222 Democrats in favour. The first time the House impeached Trump, on December 18 2019, Pelosi held off for almost a month before sending the articles to the Senate for trial.

While Democrats called holding Trump to account for his actions an urgent matter, some the anger has been overtaken by enthusiasm for Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and attempts to get his plans for pandemic relief and other priorities off the ground. Still Schumer said he would vote to convict and no Democrat has suggested they wouldn’t.

“Make no mistake about it,” Schumer said. “There will be a trial. There will be a vote, up or down, on whether to convict the president.”

At the same time, many Republicans who had laid at least some of the blame on Trump for encouraging the crowd of his supporters who assaulted the Capitol while Congress was certifying the electoral vote have been pushing back against the impeachment.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said last week that Trump “bears some responsibility” for the attack on Congress. But on Thursday he said that “I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally”. McCarthy voted with other Republicans to object to certifying electoral college votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riot by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election results.

Several of Trump’s defenders have tried to use Biden’s inaugural call for unity after four years of bitter divisions as leverage. 

“We need to speak as soon as possible with as much unity as possible that a second impeachment of president Trump is bad for the country and we’re gonna fight that,” said senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch Trump ally.

McConnell has previously told GOP colleagues that he hadn’t decided whether he would vote to convict the former president and that it would be a vote of conscience for them. That is in contrast to his stance before Trump’s first impeachment trial when he said he was “not impartial about this at all” and predicted Trump would be acquitted, which he was.

While McConnell still hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump, he’s now working with Graham on setting a schedule Trump’s side can support. “The president was shut out in the House so his team needs some time to prepare,” Graham said.

That team began to take shape on Thursday. Trump adviser Jason Miller said on Twitter that the former president had hired South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers as part of his legal team.

Bowers has worked on high-profile voting and election matters. He represented former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford in 2009 when his state’s Republican-led legislature considered impeachment after he admitted lying to aides about hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was really in Argentina with his mistress. Sanford served out his term.

McConnell’s final decision might sway some Republicans, but not necessarily enough to make the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction. A number of GOP senators are arguing that it is unconstitutional to try a former president after he’s left office.

Bloomberg

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