Nancy Pelosi leaves Congress guessing on when US Senate gets Trump impeachment case

Pelosi speaks about impeaching Trump at a press conference in Washington, Jan 15, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the impeachment of President Donald Trump as "urgent" but declined to say on Friday (Jan 15) when the House will send the single charge for inciting insurrection to the Senate to begin his trial.

Speaking to reporters two days after the House impeached Trump for encouraging his supporters who stormed the US Capitol, Pelosi choked up as she described some rioters celebrating the Holocaust and White supremacy after they breached the "temple of Democracy"

"As we address the insurrection that was perpetrated against the Capitol complex last week, right now, our managers are solemnly and prayerfully preparing for the trial, which they will take to the Senate," Pelosi told reporters at a news conference, referring to the impeachment managers who will present the House's case.

But Pelosi avoided repeated questions about the timing for transmitting the single article of impeachment to the Senate, a decision that has implications for how quickly Congress can act on President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet choices and agenda, including a US$1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief package.

The trial could start no sooner than Jan 20, the day Biden is set to be sworn in.

Sending the House's article of impeachment to the Senate triggers the process for Trump's trial, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have not said how the chamber will actually proceed.

Democrats will assume control of the evenly divided Senate as soon as two newly elected Georgia senators are sworn in, Kamala Harris takes her oath as vice-president and Alex Padilla replaces her as a senator from California.

Biden has asked the Senate to divide its time between Trump's trial and regular business, but McConnell has not responded publicly and officials were still reviewing whether and how the chamber could do that.

Tom Daschle, who was the Democratic leader in 2001, the last time the Senate was spit 50-50, said starting the trial sooner rather than later and having the Senate split its time "would be the most logical and pragmatic" approach.

Though delaying the trial a few months - as a few Democrats have advocated - might seem like a way to speed action on pressing legislation, he said, it risks making it harder to forge agreements.

"The longer it hangs out there, the more political it becomes and the more divisive it could be," said Daschle, who was also Senate Democratic leader during President Bill Clinton's contentious 1999 impeachment trial.

After Trump's first impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec 18, 2019, the House did not transmit the articles until Jan 15, 2020, a span of 27 days.

When the Senate trial does start, Trump will become the first former president to face an impeachment trial, which some Republicans contend is unconstitutional, even though a number of legal scholars say the framers of the Constitution did not intend to leave presidents free in the waning days of their terms to engage in egregious wrongdoing without consequence.

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