The obvious explanation for delay is that the Senate just has too much on its plate right now to juggle impeachment with everything else. Confirming Biden’s nominees expeditiously is of utmost importance to make sure that federal agencies are staffed as quickly as possible. Holding confirmation hearings for half a day followed by an impeachment trial for the other half means those positions will be filled half as fast as they could be. Delaying the trial means the Senate can focus completely on its immediate priority.
But … it’s not like Cocaine Mitch to take a Democratic president’s interests to heart that way. Usually there’s some Machiavellian reason for his gambits. What does he gain by slowing down Trump’s trial?
I mean, I don’t think Democrats are going to lose interest over the course of 14 days in trying to convict their least favorite Republican, in case that’s the strategy here.
McConnell’s stated reason for the delay is that he believes due process requires it:
“Senate Republicans are strongly united behind the principle that the institution of the Senate, the office of the presidency, and former President Trump himself all deserve a full and fair process that respects his rights and the serious factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake,” McConnell said in his statement. “Given the unprecedented speed of the House’s process, our proposed timeline for the initial phases includes a modest and reasonable amount of additional time for both sides to assemble their arguments before the Senate would begin to hear them.”
Under McConnell’s proposed timeline, the House impeachment managers would read the article to the Senate and senators would be sworn into the court of impeachment on January 28, a Thursday. From that day, Mr. Trump would have a week to answer the article and the House’s pre-trial brief would be due, meaning February 4. Mr. Trump would then have a week from when he submits his answer to also submit his pre-trial brief, meaning February 11. The House would have two days after that (February 13) to submit their rebuttal pre-trial brief.
Senators are expected to be away from Washington and working at home the week of February 15. Would that change under McConnell’s timetable?
What makes his logic intriguing is that this isn’t a standard case of Schumer and McConnell being on opposite sides of an issue and McConnell doing everything he can to advance the Republican position. As I said in this morning’s post, Mitch is reportedly “pleased” that Trump was impeached and open to voting for conviction. He and Schumer might be aligned this time. And if they are, his demand for due process for Trump could be aimed at eliminating an excuse some members of his caucus are considering to justify voting against conviction. “The president wasn’t given proper time to prepare a defense!” they might say. Fine, McConnell’s saying back. We’ll give him some time. Now that excuse is gone.
Meanwhile, McConnell suddenly has an extra two weeks to lobby members of his caucus to convict, if he so chooses. Just like House Democrats suddenly have an extra few weeks to dig around and see if they can find any evidence that Trump intended to get the crowd to threaten Congress on January 6. Pelosi and Schumer would get a little more time to talk to witnesses and build a case.
The flaw in that theory, though, is that with each day that passes we get further away from the Capitol riot and it becomes easier for anti-impeachment Republicans to argue that the moment for removal has passed. They seem ready to go all-in on the dubious theory that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to try a public official who’s already left office, a claim that was rebuked today in a letter signed by 150 conservative legal scholars, including a co-founder of the Federalist Society. If that’s their pretext for voting to acquit, that Congress shouldn’t waste time on former officials, then the more time that’s elapsed since those officials left office, the easier it gets for them to make their case. “Americans are done with the Trump era! They don’t want to revisit this! The Capitol riot was more than a month ago!” Pushing the trial into February enables that. This guy understands:
I completely support the process laid out by Leader McConnell regarding the upcoming impeachment trial. I hope my Democratic colleagues will agree.
The process being proposed is acceptable to the former President’s legal team and fair to the Senate, the House, and the nation. https://t.co/k3fYTyTx7a
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 21, 2021
As I have continuously stated, I believe this is an unconstitutional exercise of impeachment power, and this process will allow that argument to be made in a timely fashion.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 21, 2021
So maybe McConnell’s given up on convicting Trump and really is advancing the MAGA/GOP position by seeking delay. For what it’s worth, Democrats like James Clyburn appear to want the trial held ASAP, mainly to be done with it so that they can focus on Biden’s agenda. Possibly that’s another McConnell angle to delaying the trial, slowing down Sleepy Joe once the Senate is done with the initial round of confirmation hearings.
One other possibility: Maybe Mitch wants to see where the dust settles on Trump’s approval, both among the nation writ large and within the GOP. His numbers are down since January 6, but he’s had blips of declining approval in the past before recovering. What McConnell and his colleagues would want to know from their internal polling is whether his popularity has taken a durable hit — possibly it’s still declining — or whether he’s already rebounding. If the latter then they won’t convict him. If the former then they’d have a hard decision to make. Here’s the latest from Pew, published yesterday:
That’s a meaningful shift between August and now, proof of what two months of “stop the steal” propaganda punctuated by the Capitol attack did to him. Nearly a quarter of Republicans who approved of him then disapprove of him today. (Whereas 12 percent of Republicans who disapproved of him then approve of him today. Uh, who are those people?) A lot of “soft” Republican Trump supporters have turned on him. For good or just temporarily? McConnell will want to know before the trial starts.
By the way, Trump has apparently finally landed a respectable lawyer to defend him at the trial. That’s Butch Bowers, a South Carolinian (presumably a Lindsey Graham crony) who’s worked for Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford, and the Bush DOJ. Bowers will need a little time to prepare. Let’s see if Schumer and Pelosi agree to give him some.