The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, like the first, has a preordained outcome. He will be acquitted, with perhaps a few more Republican defections than on February 5, 2020, when Mitt Romney voted “guilty” on one of two articles of impeachment and the rest of the GOP Senate conference rejected the case for removing Trump from office. Forty-five Senate Republicans have supported a motion proclaiming the trial and conviction of an ex-president unconstitutional, which is not a position that is susceptible to any particular evidence or arguments at the trial itself. Suffice it to say that regardless of any given Republican’s attitude toward the 45th president, the party is united in wanting to get this trial over with and the sordid end of Trump’s tenure as far into the rear-view mirror as possible.
In negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over a trial schedule, however, and in guiding his own conference, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has to decide whether to concede to a quick trial — likely without live witnesses — or push for more extensive deliberations.
According to the latest intel from the New York Times on the likely Schumer-McConnell deal, Schumer is agreeing to the shortest impeachment trial ever. It will begin with a four-hour debate on Tuesday on the constitutionality of the proceeding, concluding with a vote. Assuming a simple majority of the Senate gives the trial a green light (as it will), on noon Wednesday the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers will begin 16 hours of arguments per side for conviction and acquittal. As in the first trial, senators may be allowed additional time to pose questions to both sides. The trial will break on Friday until at least Sunday in recognition of Trump lawyer David Schoen’s religious observances; it could resume on Sunday or Monday, but in either event, it should conclude with a final vote early next week.
There may, however, be some wiggle room if Schumer and his conference decide to let impeachment managers call witnesses, as Politico reports:
Senate Democrats … will largely defer to the House impeachment managers on the question of witnesses. The managers have yet to publicly say whether they want to bring in outside witnesses to make their case against Trump, or whether they will simply rely on video and public comments from the former president as evidence.
The argument for witnesses mostly revolves around the possibility of insider testimony regarding Trump’s intentions on and immediately before the January 6 Capitol riot. Other witnesses could be called to talk about the horrific details of the riot itself, though video evidence of the attack on the Capitol and of Trump’s inflammatory speech to the mob could well suffice.
Other than redundancy, the main reason many Democrats agree with Republicans on a brief trial is that it will serve as a live-televised sideshow to the herculean effort underway to assemble and pass much of Joe Biden’s COVID-relief plan via a budget-reconciliation process that requires near-total congressional Democratic support. As the Senate tries Trump, the House will be conducting a laborious committee-by-committee reporting of legislation germane to Biden’s plan, which will be lashed together by the House Budget Committee for an up-or-down floor vote on the week of February 22. If congressional Democrats and/or the White House decide more of a public push is needed to give this bill momentum in the Senate, every minute spent on the process leading up to another Trump acquittal may seem wasted.
But there remains an underlying feeling among some Democrats that Trump should not be allowed to avoid a full accounting of his misconduct a second time. (Republicans blocked the calling of witnesses in the first trial.) A trial that largely ends before it has fully begun will be deeply unsatisfying to those in both parties (though in the case of Republicans, the sentiment is rarely public) who want to give Trump as hard a kick as possible on the road to retirement or irrelevance.