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WASHINGTON, Jan 23 — Former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial will begin during the week of February 8, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday, after the House of Representatives formally delivers the impeachment charge to the chamber on Monday.
Schumer emphasised the need to move quickly on confirmation of President Joe Biden's Cabinet and other key administration officials. Schumer said House impeachment managers - serving as prosecutors in the Senate trial ― and Trump's defense team would have time to prepare between the time the single article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting an insurrection is delivered on Monday and the start of the trial.
“During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as Cabinet nominations and the Covid relief Bill which would provide relief for millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
Schumer became the chamber's leader this week after Democrats won two Georgia US Senate runoff elections earlier in the month.
The timeline was a compromise after Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell had asked the Democratic-led House to delay sending the charges until next Thursday, and called on Schumer to postpone the trial until mid-February to give Trump more time to prepare a defense.
A McConnell aide said the trial could begin as soon as February 9 ― a Tuesday ― and that McConnell was pleased Democrats had given Trump's defense more time.
“This is a win for due process and fairness,” said Doug Andres, a McConnell spokesman.
Trump's charge stems from his incendiary speech to supporters before they stormed the Capitol on January 6.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” McConnell said on Friday. “The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the Senate should be able to move forward with both the trial and Biden's agenda, beginning with his call for US$1.9 trillion (RM7.7 trillion) of fresh Covid-19 assistance for Americans and the US economy.
“What cannot be delayed through this process is his proposal to get relief to the American people at this time of crisis,” Psaki told reporters.
Senate rules had called for an impeachment trial to begin at 1pm on the day after articles of impeachment are delivered to the upper legislative chamber of Congress, except for Sundays.
But Senator Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told MSNBC that lawmakers would “sit down and map this out as best we can, use every available minute.”
The moves come as Schumer and McConnell are struggling to assert control in a chamber divided 50-50 in which Democrats hold a majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote.
“I can't imagine that both McConnell and Schumer don't want to have a little more structure here, and particularly Schumer, leave a little more time to move forward with the early Biden decisions before we get locked into the trial,” Republican Senator Roy Blunt told reporters.
McConnell has insisted that Democrats provide a guarantee that they will not end the legislative filibuster, which gives the minority Republicans the power to block legislation being pushed by the new Biden administration.
Schumer rejected McConnell's demand yesterday, calling it an “unacceptable proposal.”
McConnell refused to concede, saying that maintaining the filibuster's 60-vote threshold for advancing most legislation was a linchpin for the power-sharing agreement cobbled together in 2001, the last time the Senate was split 50-50.
Trump last week became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, and when the Senate convenes for his trial will be the first president tried after leaving office.
Ten House Republicans joined Democrats on January 13 in impeaching him. The support of at least 17 Senate Republicans would be needed to convict him; a separate vote would then be needed to ban him from running for office again.
Such a vote could signal that senior Republicans were eager to remove Trump as the de facto leader of their party. He has said he may seek to run again in 2024.
Trump's fate ultimately could depend on McConnell, whose position is likely to influence other Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Republican said this week that the mob was “fed lies” and “provoked by the president and other powerful people.” — Reuters