Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday told Republican senators that he expects Speaker Nancy Pelosi to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate as soon as Friday, setting up an impeachment trial that begins early next week.
While senators and aides cautioned that McConnell does not have inside intelligence, the remarks serve as key scheduling advice for senators. Most Republicans are now gearing up for the relentless pace of the impeachment trial to start on Monday or Tuesday.
It’s entirely unclear whether this is just a best-case-scenario guesstimate by McConnell, or even a gambit to add to the pressure on Pelosi to transmit the articles of impeachment, or a genuinely educated guess. But it is true that under the standing rules of the Senate, once articles of impeachment are presented by official representatives of the House, the upper chamber has to put aside all other business and proceed to a trial quickly.
Upon such articles being presented to the Senate, the Senate shall, at 1 o’clock afternoon of the day (Sunday excepted) following such presentation, or sooner if ordered by the Senate, proceed to the consideration of such articles and shall continue in session from day to day (Sundays excepted) after the trial shall commence (unless otherwise ordered by the Senate) until final judgment shall be rendered, and so much longer as may, in its judgment, be needful.
That speedy timetable is based on formal presentation of the articles by House mangers, not some informal transmission, so even if Pelosi has resolved to transmit the articles, it’s unclear when the clock on beginning of the trial would begin to toll.
And there’s been no sign from Pelosi that she’s actually doing anything right away, and she made it clear earlier today no one should make any assumptions about timing:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that she will send the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate “when I’m ready,” rebuffing calls from top Democrats to submit them.
“No, I’m not holding them indefinitely,” Pelosi told reporters during a press conference at the Capitol. “I will turn them over when I’m ready, and that will probably be soon.”
If she was cutting the articles loose, I doubt Mitch McConnell would be the first to know.
But let’s say for the sake of argument the House managers did materialize in the Senate tomorrow: In theory, then, the trial would begin on Monday. And that’s what some of McConnell’s charges are actually planning for in case it happens that way.
“[McConnell] expects them at some point here very soon,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “The sense is that even if they got here at this very moment right now, there’s still a process involved to notify the White House and chief justice and turning it all around. So it sounds like to me the earliest we can get on that would be the Monday when we get back.”
“I’m not sure he has any specific knowledge, but the gut feeling is that it will come over there tomorrow and set up for a Monday start,” he added.
Beginning the trial doesn’t mean its duration or other detailed rules about its procedures would be set in stone first. Much of that would be addressed in the detailed rules package McConnell has planned to adopt soon after the trial’s initiation, as occurred during the 1999 Clinton trial.
One salient scheduling matter is that three Democratic senators (Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren) are among the five candidates currently qualified to appear on the stage at the next Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14. McConnell probably wouldn’t mind messing with their plans and their campaigns, but presumably Pelosi would make an effort to avoid that contingency.
This post has been updated to reflect additional developments.