Bitter Senate fight likely after House impeaches Trump again

Trial puts Republicans in quandary and may detract from Biden's agenda early in his term

US President Donald Trump was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives on Jan 13, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

President Donald Trump's impeachment on Wednesday has set the stage for a bitter trial in the Senate which could prove an unwelcome distraction in the early days of President-elect Joe Biden's term.

It also presents a quandary for Republican senators, who could vote to convict him and bar him from holding office again - but at the cost of angering his base and endangering their own political futures.

Mr Biden, who has expressed hopes that the Senate could split its time between Mr Trump's trial and his legislative agenda, stressed on Wednesday that America remains in the grip of a deadly virus and a reeling economy.

"I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation," Mr Biden said after Mr Trump's impeachment.

The President was impeached for the second time on Wednesday by the House of Representatives, in a bipartisan 232-197 vote which saw 10 Republicans vote with Democrats to charge him with incitement of insurrection following last week's attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Mr Trump is the first United States president to be impeached twice, following his first impeachment in 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Democrat leaders have not said when the charge will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

It is unlikely that the trial can happen in the short time Mr Trump has left in office, as the Senate is scheduled to return only on Tuesday.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell rebuffed calls by Democrats to bring the Senate back early for an immediate impeachment trial, saying that the Senate trial will not take place until after Mr Trump has left office.

Noting that the three previous presidential trials lasted 83 days, 37 days and 21 days, he said it would be best if Congress spent the next seven days facilitating a safe inauguration for Mr Biden.

Democrats will control the next Senate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will become the majority leader and determine what Bills get considered by the Senate, vowed that Mr Trump would face an impeachment trial.

Seventeen Republican senators must vote against Mr Trump for him to be convicted by the Senate.

But Mr McConnell said he has not decided how to vote, a marked difference from the 2019 impeachment trial in which he said he was "not an impartial juror", and a sign that Mr Trump's conviction is not beyond the realm of possibility.

"While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote, and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate," Mr McConnell said in a note to Republicans, which The New York Times first reported on.

The 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Mr Trump marked a small but significant opposition within the party, a departure from the 2019 impeachment, when not a single Republican voted to impeach.

Even senior Republicans who opposed impeachment levelled criticism at his actions.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said: "The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob, when he saw what was unfolding."

Democrats argued at the impeachment debate that Mr Trump had to be removed from power immediately. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in opening remarks: "We know that the President of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2021, with the headline Bitter Senate fight likely after House impeaches Trump again. Subscribe