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Top Senate Republicans push to delay Trump impeachment trial

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/22/2021 Mike DeBonis, Seung Min Kim
Schumer outlines timeline for Trump impeachment in Senate
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Senate Republicans on Thursday pushed to delay the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump for at least three weeks because he is struggling to recruit a legal team and assemble a defense against the accusation that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) floated postponing the start of the trial until mid-February, telling colleagues that Trump deserved more time to prepare his case and file briefs with the Senate. A conviction could bar Trump from public office in the future.

The proposal came as a key Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), disclosed that the former president had secured a lead defense counsel for the trial: Butch Bowers, a Columbia, S.C., attorney known for his prominent role in litigating political and election matters for North and South Carolina Republicans.

Graham described Bowers as the “anchor tenant” of a team that would come together in the coming days. He said a short delay is warranted given the rapid-fire process in the House, which impeached Trump one week after the Capitol riot.

[Senate impeachment whip count: Where Democrats and Republicans stand]

“A couple of weeks, I think, would be necessary for the president’s people to make their argument most effectively,” he said. “I think it’s fair to the Senate; I think it’s fair to the president.”

Trump spokesman Jason Miller confirmed Bowers’s role as a Trump legal adviser Thursday. “Butch is well respected by both Republicans and Democrats and will do an excellent job defending President Trump,” he said.

Bowers did not respond to phone calls and emails sent to his law office Thursday.

Senate Democrats — who took the majority Wednesday with the swearings-in of three new senators and the inauguration of Vice President Harris — did not respond immediately to McConnell’s proposal. But there are reasons to believe Democrats would be amenable to a delay, given the need for the Senate to process President Biden’s Cabinet nominations.

As of Thursday, only one Biden nominee — Director of National lntelligence Avril Haines — had been confirmed, though the leaders of the Departments of Defense, State and the Treasury appeared poised for approval in the coming days.

On the other hand, McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) remain at loggerheads over how the 50-50 Senate will operate, which has contributed to the uncertainty over the confirmation of Biden’s nominees.

A Schumer spokesman said McConnell’s proposed pretrial schedule — which would allow for a trial to begin Feb. 15 — is under review.

In any case, the single impeachment article — for “incitement of insurrection” — has yet to make its way across the Capitol from the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday continued to be coy about when the impeachment resolution would be sent over to the Senate, prompting the trial to start.

One thing lawmakers of both parties appear to agree on is that Trump’s second impeachment trial need not approach the 21-day length of his first trial, which ended in February in acquittal on two articles related to his efforts to leverage foreign aid to prompt Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden — a request he made to the Ukrainian president in a crucial July 2019 phone call.

[Impeachment trial threatens Biden’s already-delayed Cabinet picks amid mounting challenges]

“I do see a big difference between something that we all witnessed, versus what information you might need to substantiate an article of impeachment based in large part on a call the president made and described as ‘perfect,’ ” Pelosi said Thursday.

The House Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), said Thursday that he did not know how long the trial would take.

“But I don’t think it will take as long as the last one,” he said.

Graham agreed that few facts were in dispute but said many Republican senators would be deciding whether it is constitutional to try an ex-president on impeachment charges. If all 50 Democrats vote to convict Trump, at least 17 Republicans would have to join them to secure a conviction and set up a simple-majority vote on whether to bar Trump from future office.

“We’ll make our own decisions about: Did the president go too far? Was this incitement under the law? What’s the right outcome there? So it should be a quick trial, really, quite frankly,” he said. “I don’t think the country needs a whole lot.”

After losing the election, Trump not only challenged the results in courts and enlisted legislators to question his defeat, he also summoned his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6 — the day of the final tallying of electoral votes by Congress — and appeared at a rally that day urging them to march to the Capitol.

That behavior prompted McConnell to rebuke Trump on the Senate floor Tuesday — the last full day of Trump’s presidency. “The mob was fed lies,” he said, adding that the rioters had been “provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

Still, the vast majority of Republican voters remain solidly behind Trump, looking past his role in promoting the false claim that he, not Biden, had won the 2020 presidential election.

The split-screen was on view Thursday on the other side of the Capitol, where House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that he did not agree with McConnell’s assessment — “I don’t believe he provoked, if you listen to what he said at the rally” — and defended Trump’s place in the GOP.

“This president brought a lot of great success,” he said. “He brought people to the party that hadn’t been involved in it before. And he should continue to engage in that way. . . . He listened to voices that no one else was hearing, in either party.”

The comments appeared to be a retreat from McCarthy’s remarks last week on the House floor ahead of the impeachment vote, where he said Trump “bears responsibility” for the Capitol attack and deserved censure.

House Republicans are dealing with ongoing dissension over the bipartisan impeachment vote — in which 10 Republicans, including Conference Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.), joined Democrats in rebuking Trump.

McCarthy pushed back Thursday on efforts from Trump loyalists seeking to remove Cheney from her post as the No. 3 party leader, saying he did not support her ousting. But he acknowledged anger in the GOP ranks about her vocal role in calling for Trump’s impeachment and suggested a reckoning was warranted.

“We allow differences of opinion inside our conference — they’re welcome — but I think there’s questions that need to be answered,” McCarthy said, pointing to the “style in which things were delivered.”

Cheney delivered a scathing rebuke of Trump the day before the impeachment vote, in a statement that was read by Democrats repeatedly on the House floor in an attempt to browbeat Republicans.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in part.

Her decision to speak out early, fueling the Democratic attacks, angered GOP colleagues — including a corps of Trump loyalists who have demanded her resignation. It remains unclear, however, whether the effort to remove her from her leadership post will move forward.

McCarthy said the matter would be discussed at a House GOP conference meeting next week, and several Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe internal dynamics said most members simply wanted to blow off steam rather than provoke a messy leadership shuffle.

“There is far more interest in having those conversations than in removing her as conference chair,” one GOP aide said.

Cheney said in a Fox News interview Thursday that all lawmakers “have an obligation to the Constitution and an obligation to do what we believe is right.”

“We have differences of opinion about a whole range of issues, including about this one,” she added. “I anticipate and am confident we will be united as a conference going forward.”

[Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president, pleads for unity in inaugural address to a divided nation]

Trump loyalists’ displeasure with Cheney is not new. Last year, she faced calls for her removal as party leader from several stridently pro-Trump lawmakers affiliated with the hard-right House Freedom Caucus after she questioned Trump’s decision to draw down troops abroad and praised Anthony S. Fauci, the government immunologist.

Cheney on Wednesday garnered her first Republican primary challenger for 2022, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who said in a statement that her “long-time opposition to President Trump and her most recent vote for Impeachment shows just how out-of-touch she is with Wyoming.”

But she won a vote of confidence Thursday from a powerful in-state colleague, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate GOP leader. He called her “a highly effective and valuable member of our Wyoming delegation” and said “her strong voice and leadership will matter these next four years more than ever.”

Also delivering gestures of support for Cheney were Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the minority whip, and Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Asked in a Fox Business Network interview about the push to oust Cheney, Scalise said he was “not in that camp,” while McCaul said in a statement that the GOP “is a big tent and we should be able to disagree with each other on some issues.”

“Right now we should be focused on stopping President Biden from enacting some of his more liberal agenda items . . . instead of bickering with one another,” he said.

seung-min.kim@washpost.com

a person wearing a suit and sunglasses standing outside of a building: Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his wife, former transportation secretary Elaine Chao, arrive at the U.S. Capitol ahead of the inauguration of President Biden on Jan. 20. © Melina Mara/The Washington Post Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his wife, former transportation secretary Elaine Chao, arrive at the U.S. Capitol ahead of the inauguration of President Biden on Jan. 20.
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