McConnell proposes allowing Trump two weeks to prepare impeachment defense

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing to give former President Donald Trump two weeks to prepare his legal case for his impeachment trial, arguing that the Senate cannot “short-circuit the due process” that Trump deserves.

McConnell told Republican senators that he would propose to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that the former president have until early-February to prepare his case, according to three people briefed on a conference call Thursday. The trial would start in mid-February under the timeline, though Schumer has not yet accepted the deal.

“Senate Republicans are strongly united behind the principle that the institution of the Senate, the office of the presidency, and former President Trump himself all deserve a full and fair process that respects his rights and the serious factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake,” McConnell said in a statement on Thursday evening.

Notably, delaying the trial would allow more of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed in the ensuing period. But it could also reduce the GOP support for convicting the president, given that the assault on the Capitol that spurred the impeachment effort would be more than a month in the past.

“We received Leader McConnell’s proposal that only deals with pre-trial motions late this afternoon. We will review it and discuss it with him,” said a spokesperson for Schumer.

The discussion of a two-week delay comes as congressional leaders attempt to work out details of Trump’s second impeachment trial, including the former president’s defense against the House’s charges that he incited the deadly insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far refused to say when she plans to transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate, a move that would require the upper chamber to almost immediately begin its trial. McConnell and Schumer are negotiating trial timing as part of a larger discussion about the Senate’s organizing resolution in a 50-50 chamber as well as confirmation of Cabinet nominees.

If the two leaders can negotiate a deal and get buy-in from their caucuses, they can pick when the trial begins and shape the contours of it. Otherwise, the trial would start the next day the Senate is in session after Pelosi sends the article.

“He has a right to defend himself,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think this is something that we should rush.”

CBS first reported McConnell’s effort to push the trial into February.

Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she would “soon” take steps that would formally launch Trump’s second impeachment trial. That could happen as soon as Friday, more than a week after a bipartisan House voted to convict Trump, according to lawmakers and aides.

But that could now change. Several Democrats said part of Pelosi’s calculation is waiting for Schumer and McConnell to reach a power sharing agreement for the 50-50 Senate. Pelosi acknowledged as such on Thursday, telling reporters the Senate was ready but there are “other questions about how a trial will proceed.”

“I’m not going to be telling you when it was going,” she added, declining to offer further specifics.

The House voted to impeach Trump on Jan. 13, with one week left in his term as every Democrat and nearly a dozen Republicans warned he posed a clear and present danger to the country.

But Pelosi has so far held off transmitting the article to the Senate, a process that involves the House’s impeachment managers hand-delivering the paperwork across the Capitol dome. It’s a similar move to Pelosi’s handling of Trump’s first impeachment in December 2019, when Democrats waited weeks over Congress’s winter recess to transmit the articles as they sought to carefully choreograph the start of the Senate’s trial.

This time, the process is more complicated as the start of a Senate impeachment trial would come as Trump is out of office and a newly inaugurated President Joe Biden attempts to lock in his Cabinet amid multiple national crises.

The Senate is moving quickly to approve key national security posts this week, but a trial — which would require senators to sit in the chamber six days a week for its duration — would almost certainly slow the process for at least some of Biden’s nominees if it began immediately.

Further complicating things, Schumer and McConnell have yet to reach an agreement for governing the Senate, which several Democrats said will have considerable influence over when Pelosi sends the article and the trial starts. The biggest obstacle to reaching a deal is McConnell’s demand that Schumer preserve the legislative filibuster, which Democrats have rebuffed.

Unlike in 2019, however, when almost all Republicans were in favor of acquitting Trump, his fate in the Senate remains uncertain. It is unlikely that 17 Republicans would vote to convict their former president, but key GOP senators, including McConnell, say they remain undecided and the GOP conference’s calculation could change quickly.

Some Republicans have questioned the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial now that Trump is no longer in office. Some have also complained that the Democrats’ move to impeach Trump — regardless of his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots that left five people dead — would undercut Biden’s calls for national unity at his inauguration ceremony on Wednesday.

But Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she is “not worried” about that argument.

“The president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection,” Pelosi said. “I don’t think it’s very unifying to say, oh, let’s just forget it and move on. That’s not how you unify.”

“Just because he’s now gone — thank God — you don’t say to a president, ‘Do whatever you want in the last months of your administration. You’re going to get a get-out-of-jail card free’ because people think you should make nice, nice, and forget that people died here on Jan. 6.”

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