On Monday evening, the House of Representatives will, for the second time in just over a year, deliver an article of impeachment to the Senate. Last year, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used his influence to deliver a speedy acquittal for then-President Donald Trump. This time around, he’s already given a gift to the Democrats prosecuting Trump, undercutting his own caucus in the process.
This time around, he’s already given a gift to the Democrats prosecuting Trump, undercutting his own caucus in the process.
While many Democrats — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — would have been more than happy to start the trial ASAP, Senate Republicans have been less enthused. Despite witnessing the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, they’ve resorted to arguing that either it’s unconstitutional to have an impeachment trial for a former president (it very much is not) or that a rushed trial would deny Trump his due process rights.
The latter defense has become an easy way for senators to avoid talking about the merits of the House-passed article, while also calling the process unfair. "I think we know that we want to make sure that if the Democrats are going to do this impeachment, that the [former] president has a right to due process,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Thursday.
“He has a right to defend himself," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said, "I don't think this is something that we should rush."
“It is a serious issue, but it’s not a serious effort to comply with the requirements of due process of the Constitution when it comes to impeachment,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, complained about the speedy House vote.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed to a two-week delay as McConnell had suggested, setting the trial’s start date as Feb. 8. The deal seemed at first like a win for the GOP. Doug Andres, a McConnell spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the agreement was “a win for due process and fairness."
But it’s also a win — on three fronts — for Democrats.
First, under the Senate’s rules, once an article of impeachment is delivered, a trial is supposed to begin automatically. Unfortunately, that would have also blocked the Senate from considering the majority of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Several GOP senators had voiced opposition to the idea of splitting time between the trial and other business. The delay leaves the floor clear for those nominations.
Second, McConnell has now taken off the table an argument for acquittal that Republicans were keen to make. How can you argue about the lack of due process when your own caucus’s leader said that two weeks was more than enough time to prepare?
And third, even as passions have cooled among senators, the details that have come out since Jan. 6 are only more damaging for Trump. I wonder how the senators demanding due process will feel once Trump’s attempt to oust the acting attorney general is described under oath. Or how excruciating it will be to watch footage — like the 10 minutes of crowd-sourced video published Monday from Just Security — that Democrats are certain to submit as evidence.
The rest of the trial’s structure still needs to be worked out in the next fortnight, but at least now we won’t have to waste time debating the alleged unfairness of this process. While we're sure to hear complaints regardless, McConnell has already rendered them all but meaningless.