Impeachment Briefing: Waiting to Transmit

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

By Noah Weiland

What happened today

At a news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to tell reporters when House Democrats might take the lone impeachment article against President Trump to the Senate, calling into question when a trial might begin.

In her remarks inside the Capitol, the speaker made clear that her first priority was ensuring the security of the building and lawmakers ahead of Mr. Biden’s inauguration next week.

Behind the scenes, Democrats were working with Republican leaders to try to find a proposal to allow the Senate to split time between the impeachment trial and consideration of Mr. Biden’s agenda, including his cabinet nominees.

Editor’s note: This newsletter will not be published next week, as much of Washington will be focused on President-elect Biden’s inauguration. We will return on Monday, Jan. 25 — unless events dictate otherwise.

What’s next?

I asked my colleague Nick Fandos, who covers Congress, what we can expect in the coming days.

Nick, what are lawmakers working on now?

There have been so few impeachment trials in American history. At the start, senators will have to agree on the parameters of a trial. How long will the prosecution get? How long will the defense get? Will there be witnesses? Once they do, a trial gets underway. It runs until senators feel they have the information they need to take a vote, either to convict or acquit.

Will we be waiting a while?

The reason there’s a pause right now is that the House and Senate are going to try to undertake this trial at a really precarious time, when a new president is being sworn in to office and wants the Senate to confirm his cabinet.

Even before the article is sent over, Republicans in the Senate and House, consulting with Nancy Pelosi and the Biden team, are trying to see if they can agree to a set of rules that will allow the Senate to set up a dual track, whereby half the day is used to hold hearings and vote to confirm Biden’s cabinet and half the day could be used for a Senate trial.

There is extra pressure to make this work because of the ongoing threats of unrest in the country. The new administration needs to be able to put a team in key national security positions at the Justice Department and Pentagon. So if Pelosi, say, holds on to the article until the week after Biden is inaugurated, it gives the Senate the Thursday, Friday and Saturday after he is sworn in to vote on national security confirmations.

What kind of trial are lawmakers thinking of holding? Does the timing matter?

The House managers who are going to be prosecuting the case are also weighing right now whether they want to try to move really quickly and have a snap trial, like they had a snap impeachment, and try to capitalize on the straightforward facts related to the riot. There’s overwhelming anger in the Senate, and the House managers can try to put Republicans on the record quickly.

But there’s a competing school of thought among Democrats that says the more information about the riot that comes out, the more damning the case against President Trump. They could call witnesses and elicit more material. A stronger case could mean a more likely conviction, they would argue, but building it also slows down Biden’s agenda.

What can we expect next week, then?

House Democrats could well transmit the article just before or after the inauguration, and then the Senate would have to move quickly into trial mode. But it’s hard to imagine we’d get into the meat or substance of the trial until the following week.

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