The Senate has this morning opened its historic impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
When the House voted this week to send articles of impeachment to the Senate, it set off a series of choreographed steps — some well-defined, others up for debate — that will shape the Senate trial.
Below is a guide to the steps that have taken place so far and how the rest of the impeachment trial will play out over the coming weeks.
The House voted this week to send its articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, prompting only the third impeachment trial of a president in American history.
The vote put to rest nearly a month of uncertainty over when a trial might begin and quickly turn over to the Senate a historic debate over whether Trump committed what the Constitution describes as "high crimes and misdemeanors."
The Republican-led Senate is all but certain to vote eventually to acquit Trump. But the path forward remains murky, with few historical precedents and scant constitutional guidance to light the way. While decades-old congressional rules will be dusted off in the coming days, other, potentially grave decisions that could colour the outcome of the trial will be settled on the fly.
Here is how we expect things to play out on Capitol Hill in the coming days and weeks.
First up: naming managers and a vote to press charges
The House passed two articles of impeachment nearly along party lines on December 18, after a monthslong Democratic inquiry. The articles charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with a scheme to enlist a foreign power for help in the 2020 election. They accused him of using his presidency to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rivals, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly US$400 million in military aid as leverage.
Now, to move forward after nearly a month of delay, the House has to vote to approve a team of a half-dozen or so lawmakers to serve as prosecutors, or managers, and formally press charges in the Senate. A vote is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will most likely unveil her roster of managers before the vote, but she is still trying to assemble a diverse group of lawmakers suited to the task. One thing is clear: The team will almost certainly be led by Reps. Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
"Hear ye, hear ye": The opening of the Senate's trial is largely scripted by precedent and rules
The House vote will initiate a carefully choreographed dance, filled with pomp, circumstance and arcane procedural flourishes, between the House and Senate.
It begins with each chamber sending up a flare of sorts. The House first notifies the Senate it has appointed managers. The Senate responds that it is ready to receive them and exhibit the articles of impeachment.
After that, the House managers will march from their chamber across the Capitol, through the elaborately painted Rotunda under the dome, to the Senate chamber, to deliver a bound copy of the impeachment articles to senators assembled for the occasion.
Once the managers arrive, the Senate sergeant-at-arms will cry out "Hear ye! Hear ye!" and give senators a warning to stay quiet:
"All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States."
One of the managers will then read aloud and in full the House's two articles from the well of the Senate, before the whole team leaves.
Swearing of oaths: The chief justice arrives on the scene
Next, senators will escort Chief Justice John Roberts into the Senate chamber. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the president pro tem of the Senate — the longest-serving Republican — will administer an oath to Roberts, who will swear to administer "impartial justice." Then Roberts will ask senators to raise their right hands and agree to the same oath:
"I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God."
Each senator then must step up, one by one, to sign his or her name in a book attesting to the oath.
After that, the Constitution dictates little about how the proceeding should run. It does specify that in presidential impeachments, the chief justice presides for the remainder of the trial.
Senate rules in force for three decades dictate that the chamber meets for an impeachment trial every day at 1pm, Monday through Saturday, until senators reach a verdict or dismiss the charges.
Then comes the haggling
Once they are under oath, senators' first order of business will be wrangling over rules and procedures that dictate the structure of the trial, including whether and when witnesses can be called and documents admitted into evidence. The outcome will set the tone for the coming weeks.
Only a simple majority, 51 senators, must agree to set these terms, so Republicans, who hold the Senate majority, come in with a clear advantage.
During President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999, senators came together in the Old Senate Chamber to agree on a set of rules to get the trial underway that both sides could support. The rules passed 100-0.
This time will be far more partisan. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has said he has the votes to push through a rules package based on the one that governed Clinton's. But he has yet to show anyone a copy, and Democrats have promised to propose amendments in protest, meaning the debate could get messy.
Democrats and Republicans have competing objectives and several thorny questions to resolve, including how they should handle some senators' desire to hear from witnesses and collect new evidence, how much time to allow each side to make its case and when to allow senators to move to dismiss the charges.
Either in that resolution or separately, the Senate must also send a summons notifying Trump of the impeachment articles and asking for his formal reply.
Opening arguments by the House and White House could last for days
The House managers and White House defense lawyers will most likely have a few days to draw up motions and written legal briefs on their respective arguments to put before the Senate. This will be their first chance to make their cases to senators, and the public.
Once all the briefs are in, likely sometime next week, the trial will begin in earnest. The House managers will most likely have a day or more to present the facts of the Ukraine case and their arguments for why Trump ought to be removed from office.
Trump's defense lawyers will probably be given the same amount of time to present a defense. Because they chose not to mount a defense in the House in the runup to Trump's impeachment, it will be the first time the president's team has explicitly responded to the House's allegations and its first opportunity to make a formal argument for why he should remain in office.
Senators then have a couple days or so to question both sides. Though the questions are made in writing, the managers and lawyers respond out loud for the whole chamber to hear.
The trial will eventually end, one way or another
What comes next is up to the Senate. If a majority of senators support calling witnesses, they could do so, extending the proceeding by weeks or more. In that scenario, a trial could last through the February 3 Iowa caucuses, and force Trump to deliver his State of the Union address, scheduled for February 4, while he is on trial in the Senate. (Clinton did so in 1999.)
During the trial, the case can be dismissed altogether by a majority vote. Doing so would certainly give Republican leaders the speedy outcome they want, but it may be hard to secure the 51 votes necessary to do. Republicans made it clear on Monday that they do not have the support of enough senators to move to a dismissal before the trial begins, as Trump has suggested he wants.
More likely, senators will eventually vote on each of the two articles of impeachment. The Constitution stipulates that it takes two-thirds of the Senate, 67 lawmakers, to convict and remove the president from office. Anything short of that will result in acquittal, by far the most likely outcome.
Written by: Nicholas Fandos
Photographs by: Al Drago and Erin Schaff
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