The accelerating activity reflected the unusually high-pressure moment, with the departure of one president — days after he encouraged a mob that assaulted the U.S. Capitol — increasingly colliding with the agenda of a successor determined to quickly tackle the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a foundering economy.
“I had a discussion today with some of the folks in the House and Senate,” Biden told reporters Monday as he received his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. “And the question is whether or not, for example, if the House moves forward — which they obviously are — with the impeachment and sends it over to the Senate, whether or not we can bifurcate this.”
A Senate impeachment trial typically consumes the chamber for weeks, allowing for little other business. Biden has been particularly concerned about Senate confirmation for his Cabinet nominees, and he signaled Monday that he was looking for a way around the traditional pace of an impeachment trial.
“Can we go half-day on dealing with the impeachment and half-day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate?” he said.
Fallout from Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol continued elsewhere Monday, as acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf stepped down. Wolf cited recent court challenges to his authority and other “recent events,” but his move came amid criticism of the Department of Homeland Security for failing to prepare for the riot.
The flurry of activity reflected the growing certainty that the House will impeach Trump this week, taking the action just days before he leaves office and making him the first president to be impeached twice. And it underscored the concern among Democrats over how much a Senate trial could disrupt the critical first days of the Biden presidency.
House Democrats formally introduced a single article of impeachment Monday, citing Trump’s false statements claiming widespread voter fraud. “He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol,” the resolution reads.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told lawmakers to prepare to return to Washington on Tuesday to consider that resolution, with the full House scheduled to vote on Wednesday. A House aide confirmed that impeachment has 218 co-sponsors, enough to ensure passage in the Democratic-led chamber.
Democrats are furious at Trump for encouraging the assault, which left five dead. But Biden campaigned on uniting the country, and some lawmakers say that could be much harder if he launches his presidency amid a volatile effort to punish his polarizing predecessor.
Yet other Democrats argue it will not be possible for the country to come together if Trump is not held accountable, and the congressional furor over the insurrection at the Capitol has been nearly impossible to contain.
“There have to be consequences for this clear and deeply serious violation of law — inciting a riot,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Still, he said he is “sympathetic” to Biden’s desire to focus on his agenda.
But Blumenthal argued that impeaching Trump does not need to get in the way of unity. “I really hope that maybe this impeachment can be bipartisan,” he said. “The people who say that an impeachment trial would be divisive are assuming that Republicans are divided with us on the basic issue of whether a president can incite a riot, which is what he did.”
The Senate parliamentarian’s office on Monday declined to comment, but some officials who have been involved in past impeachment proceedings said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to bifurcate the Senate’s work as Biden has proposed.
There could be further delays if legal challenges are mounted to determine whether a former president can face impeachment. And Senate Republicans would have little incentive to work with Biden to speed things along and enact his agenda.
All those factors are putting enormous pressure on Schumer to decide how to negotiate the political crosscurrents. He said in an interview published Monday that he considered impeaching Trump and executing Biden’s agenda equally important.
“We’re going to have to do several things at once, but we’ve got to move the agenda as well,” Schumer told the Buffalo News. “Yes, we've got to do both.”
The Senate is not scheduled to come into session until Jan. 19, delaying any impeachment trial until the start of Biden’s administration. The chamber ordinarily could not reconvene earlier unless all 100 senators agreed.
That has prompted Schumer to explore an obscure authority that would allow him, along with the current majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to jointly reconvene the Senate in cases of emergency, according to a senior Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss evolving party strategy.
Schumer is investigating whether this option would allow for a potential Trump trial to begin immediately after the House transmits the articles to the Senate, rather than waiting until Jan. 19.
But McConnell would have to agree to such a maneuver, and it is far from clear that he would. Aides to McConnell — who had ignored Trump’s calls before Wednesday’s siege and now has no plans to call him back, according to one official — did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Schumer, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has endorsed impeaching Trump if Vice President Pence and a majority of the current Cabinet do not invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, deeming as unfit.
There is no indication Pence or any Cabinet officials have any intention of doing so.
Over the weekend, Schumer quietly advised his fellow Senate Democrats not to take the prospect of impeachment off the table in their interviews and public comments, according to two officials familiar with the conversations.
In addition, Schumer told senators not to float censure as a potential option for punishing Trump, since most Democrats believe that would let Republicans off the hook by providing a way for them to impose a toothless penalty on Trump.
A spokesman for Schumer declined to comment on his private talks with senators.
Short of persuading McConnell to agree to reconvene the Senate under emergency powers, Democratic officials have started to explore other options to accommodate both an impeachment trial and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet.
Generally, the full Senate immediately takes up articles of impeachment once they are transmitted from the House. Democrats are researching whether impeachment could instead be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearings, which would free up Senate floor time.
Similarly, Democrats have looked into a potential commission that would investigate the matter and produce a report, which would also leave the Senate available to confirm Biden’s nominees and get started on his legislative priorities.
Biden and Pelosi discussed impeachment when they spoke Friday, and Biden suggested he was agnostic on whether lawmakers go forward.
“He told Pelosi that he was going to focus on doing his job and leave it to her to handle impeachment,” said a senior Biden adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment freely about internal discussions. “She told him that it was inevitable.”
Pelosi was similarly adamant in a public statement Monday, saying, “The President’s threat to America is urgent, and so too will be our action.”
Pelosi made that statement shortly after House Republicans, using a procedural move, blocked consideration of a resolution calling on Pence to initiate removal proceedings under the 25th Amendment.
The measure, written by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), called on Pence to mobilize Cabinet members “to declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”
The House will vote on the measure a second time Tuesday, and Democrats will then move ahead with impeachment, accusing Trump of exhorting the mob on Wednesday to move on the Capitol as lawmakers were formalizing Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
“Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts,” the impeachment resolution says.
The outgoing White House staff has no detailed plan for how to handle the likely impeachment battle, with a muted Trump having no comment on the matter and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — who led the president’s impeachment defense last year — and Deputy Counsel Pat Philbin saying in private they will not be participating.
The White House is not defending Trump’s conduct to senators, instead pressing them to let him leave office quietly. Few senators are in contact with Trump.
“The goal is just to run out the clock until next Wednesday,” said one aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal thinking.
Senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, has recently called allies, asking them to put out statements against impeachment, and Kushner and Trump met with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Friday.
According to one person familiar with these conversations, Kushner is trying to understand how much congressional support there is for impeachment, rather than defending Trump’s behavior. Kushner has asked allies to argue there simply isn’t enough time for impeachment proceedings.
Graham is arguing to other senators that impeachment is not the right move, even as he does not try to defend Trump's conduct, a person who heard his argument said. Graham met with Trump at the White House for four hours on Friday, and argued that Trump participate in events related to his first-term agenda over the next week and forgo further drama. “We take it one day at a time,” he said. Graham said Trump did not offer an extensive defense of his conduct. “He just said, basically I didn’t mean for people to do this,” Graham said, describing how the president defended his conduct.
“I think letting the president stew in his own juices is probably the right way to go here,” Graham said Monday in an interview with The Washington Post. “Impeachment is going to reignite the problem, and we've got nine days to go here. It will do more harm than good, and I'm hoping that people on our side will see it that way.”
Matt Viser and Dan Balz contributed to this report.