Senate GOP leaders say opening arguments in the impeachment trial for President Trump will likely kick off early next week. But several procedural steps need to happen before the meat of the trial begins.
Here’s what to watch for in the coming days as the impeachment process finally shifts from the House to the Senate.
The action starts Tuesday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will huddle with her rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday morning to discuss “how we proceed further” on sending the pair of impeachment articles to the Senate.
Pelosi hasn’t publicly stated when exactly the House will vote, but the expectation is the vote on the resolution naming impeachment managers and shipping articles to the Senate will take place Wednesday or Thursday. That’s before the House departs for its weeklong recess in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
Before that House vote, Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also could decide to publish dozens of documents, recordings, photos and text messages from Lev Parnas, a Rudy Giuliani business associate, that may be relevant to the impeachment trial. The move to publish could up the ante for Senate Republicans as they debate whether to call witnesses in the trial.
After the House vote, it’s the Senate’s turn. Once the House formally names its House managers — Democratic prosecutors handpicked by Pelosi — the Senate must then pass a resolution informing the House it’s ready to receive the articles of impeachment.
After that happens, Pelosi’s impeachment managers — there were 13 GOP managers for the Bill Clinton impeachment trial in 1999 — will physically deliver the articles from the House chamber, through Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda, to the Senate chamber.
The “march” will take about a minute and a half. Among those who could be named managers and make that historic march across the Capitol: Schiff and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) as well as House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor.
Next, the Senate will need to take up an impeachment rules package. What’s unclear right now is whether the resolution governing the rules and procedures of the Trump impeachment trial will allow senators to call witnesses such as former White House national security adviser John Bolton later in the process.
Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she is working with “a small group” of GOP colleagues on a plan to at least give the Senate the option to have witness testimony in the trial phase. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he sees no need for witnesses and has been pushing for a swift acquittal of the president.
Senate GOP leaders said they are expecting their rules package to be finalized soon.
There are other housekeeping matters, too. Under the chamber’s rules, each of the 100 senators who will ultimately decide whether to convict or acquit Trump will raise their hand and take a special impeachment oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.” That image could make for poor optics for some GOP senators who have already said they will vote to acquit Trump before hearing any evidence.
The Senate will also need to notify Trump’s defense team and summon Chief Justice John Roberts to preside over the Trump impeachment trial. That avoids a conflict of interest for Vice President Mike Pence, the president of the Senate, who would succeed Trump in the event he is found guilty of the impeachment charges.
Formal arguments could start as early as Jan. 21. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership and a close McConnell adviser, told reporters on Monday that opening arguments from the Pelosi impeachment managers and Trump defense team could come a week from Tuesday, which would be a day after the MLK federal holiday.
That is “what it’s feeling like,” Cornyn said.
Jordain Carney contributed.