Trump impeachment focus shifts to Senate as House prepares to send articles

WASHINGTON – The House is set to vote Wednesday afternoon to send articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate, where opening arguments are expected Tuesday in only the third impeachment trial of a president in history.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delayed sending the articles after the House approved them Dec. 18 to learn more about how the trial would work. Pelosi said she will identify the lawmakers called managers who will prosecute the case at 10 a.m. Trump is charged with obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the vote would be in the afternoon, after 10 minutes of debate. Hoyer said members would formally walk the articles across the Capitol to the Senate either late Wednesday or on Thursday.

After receiving the articles, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Senate will complete “housekeeping” measures, including swearing in senators and bringing over Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts to preside. McConnell said the trial would likely begin Tuesday.

House Democrats impeached Trump by accusing him of abusing the power of his office by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, while Trump withheld a White House meeting and $391 million in military aid from Ukraine. The House also accused Trump of obstructing Congress by directing aides and agencies to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony, although some officials did testify. 

Trump and congressional Republicans argued he had the authority to set foreign policy and was justified in fighting corruption in Ukraine. Trump has said he expects to be exonerated at the trial.

Trump will become only the third president tried in the Senate, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Both were not convicted and removed from office.

A two-thirds majority of the Senate would be required to convict Trump, which is considered unlikely because Republicans outnumber Democrats 53 to 47 in the Senate. But a simple majority will settle contentious issues such as whether to subpoena witnesses or documents for new information.

Trump has called at various times for the Senate to either dismiss the charges before the arguments or hold a full trial with witnesses. But McConnell said “there is little to no sentiment” among Senate Republicans to simply dismiss the charges.

“Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments,” McConnell said.

Pelosi doubled down on her insistence that witnesses be called after new documents were released Tuesday that show an associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a man named Lev Parnas, worked to get the Ukraine government to investigate Biden.

“There can be no full & fair trial in the Senate if Leader McConnell blocks the Senate from hearing witnesses and obtaining documents President Trump is covering up,” Pelosi said in a Wednesday morning tweet.

The trial will open with statements from House managers and White House lawyers defending Trump. Then senators can submit written questions through Roberts to both sides. After those steps, Democrats and a handful of key Republicans have urged votes on whether to call witnesses.

Former national security adviser John Bolton, who declined an invitation to testify in the House inquiry, said he would be willing to testify under subpoena in the Senate trial. But Trump said he might block Bolton’s testimony under executive privilege to protect the confidentiality of advice presidents get from top aides.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged testimony from four witnesses, including Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. But Democrats need at least four Republicans to join them, to reach a majority of 51 senators, to approve subpoenas.

If Democrats win approval of their witnesses, Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky have suggested calling Hunter Biden.

“I think it’s certainly appropriate to point out that both sides would want to call witnesses,” McConnell said. “So when you get to that issue, I can’t imagine that only the witnesses that our Democratic colleagues would want to call would be called.“

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., noted that Trump’s State of the Union speech on Feb. 4 would probably occur during the trial. Former President Bill Clinton delivered a State of the Union speech during his impeachment trial.

“I would expect no reason to believe that same thing wouldn’t happen,” Blunt said.