A trial is a necessary step to convict Trump and would kick him out of office before he leaves Jan. 20. It would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which would manifest as a strong bipartisan rebuke of him and his actions. It would be an even stronger signal if it was the Republican-controlled Senate launching this trial in his final days in office.
For those reasons, holding a Senate trial in the coming days would be an undeniable humiliation for the president, one that casts a pall on his future political ambitions. (If they were to convict him, the Senate could also take a vote to bar him from ever holding office again. That requires just a majority.)
A senior White House adviser, speaking anonymously, described it that way to CNN:
This adviser said the current thinking is the Senate does not have enough time to convict Trump before he leaves office, so the president can make it to the end of his term without that kind of humiliation.“We will get through the 20th and move on,” the adviser said.
All of this could happen after Trump leaves office — a trial, a bipartisan conviction, a vote to prevent him from holding future office — but Trump’s team clearly sees that as less of a threat. He will already be gone; Democrats will technically be in control of the Senate by then with the seating of two Georgia Democrats, and President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris will be sworn in. (Democrats will have 50 votes in the Senate, with Harris serving as a tiebreaker if needed.)
A trial taking place after Jan. 20 could let Trump say, accurately, that he got impeached by a Democratic-controlled Congress, even if 17 Senate Republicans join in to convict him.
McConnell has previously said that the Senate wouldn’t be coming back until Jan. 19, a day before Biden’s inauguration and the likely transfer of power in the Senate. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate majority leader, is trying to persuade McConnell to bring the Senate back earlier via an infrequently used provision under which both party leaders agree there’s an urgent need to do so, but McConnell hasn’t taken him up on that. In fact, McConnell aides told Schumer aides they wouldn’t reconvene the Senate on Friday when the Senate is scheduled for a pro forma session, The Post reported. That suggests McConnell is not willing to hold a trial under his tenure as majority leader.
House Republicans opposed to a second impeachment are seeking to cast Democrats as politically opportunistic, questioning the timing of the impeachment push.
“With only a week to go,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said on the House floor on Wednesday as that chamber debated impeaching Trump, “the majority is asking us to consider a resolution impeaching President Trump and doing so knowing full well even if the House passes this resolution, the Senate will not consider these charges until President Trump’s term ends.”
But what Cole didn’t mention is that the Senate is still Republican-controlled, in McConnell’s hands for the next week. And McConnell is said to be privately supportive of impeachment, increasingly open to convicting Trump, and thus, perhaps, more open than we thought to bringing back the Senate for a trial now to do maximum damage to the president.
McConnell hasn’t decided how he’ll vote, according to conversations first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by The Washington Post. But they report that he has privately told others that Trump probably committed impeachable offenses.
One Senate GOP aide speaking to CNN calculated that if McConnell wanted to convict Trump, he could bring along 16 other Republicans. “If Mitch is a yes, he's done,” that person said of the president.
Georgetown Law constitutional scholar and author Josh Chafetz says there are no strict timelines on how slowly or quickly the Senate has to hold such a trial, or how long it has to wait after the House impeachment to do it.
House Democrats say they will send the article of impeachment immediately over to the Senate after they vote on it later Wednesday.
Deciding whether to convict the president will be a major moment for McConnell — and the president, and the Republican Party.
But before we even get there, he has another big decision to make that could also shape Trump’s legacy: whether to call the Senate back in session to hold a trial while Trump is still in office.
This has been updated with the latest news.