Pass the popcorn, order the pizzas, and clear the Zoom rooms! The Senate today launches its second trial of Donald Trump in as many years, and this will set a new precedent on attempting to convict a president that has already left office. In fact, the precedent is weighty enough that the first order of business after setting the rules for the trial is to determine whether there should even be a trial:
At 1:00 p.m. ET, the Senate will convene to pass an organizing resolution dictating the structure of the trial. Four hours of argument over the constitutionality of proceedings against a former president by the House managers and Trump’s lawyers will follow.
While 45 Republicans voted last month in favor of a measure that argued the proceedings were unconstitutional, some of those senators said they simply wanted a debate on the issue so their vote may not indicate how they view the issue. After the arguments on constitutionality, the Senate will vote on whether to proceed — a measure that only needs a simple majority and is expected to pass. That will set the stage for the start Wednesday of consideration of the article of the “incitement of insurrection” article of impeachment.
That does appear to be a foregone conclusion. The constitutional objections will be noted and the adherents counted, but Rand Paul’s point-of-order motion a week ago made two things very clear. A majority of the Senate wants the trial to proceed, and enough Republicans oppose it to make the trial futile — at least in terms of pursuing a conviction and disqualification.
Instead, this will give Senate Democrats a final opportunity to bury Trump politically. Given the specifics of this article of impeachment, they won’t need as long as the previous trial, in part because they don’t foresee the need for witnesses and evidentiary support:
Each side will have 16 hours to make their presentations — a shorter amount of time than the 24 hours allotted for Trump’s first trial and then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
The expectation is that Trump’s defense team will likely not use their full 16 hours, according to two sources familiar with the legal strategy. This is subject to change but reflects the current thinking and outward optimism from the Trump lawyers heading into the trial. The sources believe that House impeachment managers will use all of their allotted time.
The 78-page brief submitted by Trump’s attorneys sounds long, but its arguments are blessedly brief in nature. Trump’s team will argue two main points, followed by a handful of lesser rebuttals against the impeachment. First, Trump’s January 6th speech wasn’t legally or morally an incitement to violence, and second, that the Senate has no jurisdiction over a former president. They might not get unanimity among Republicans on either point, but the latter will be the argument to which Senate Republicans cling when it comes to the final vote.
That will take us to Friday’s session. At that point, the floor opens up for four hours of written questions ready by presider Patrick Leahy. That might pass more quickly than some might think, too. Republicans certainly don’t want to ask too many questions, especially in a process which they will reject as invalid. Some Senate Democrats might not feel the need to engage too much, either:
Sen. Mazie Hirono said Tuesday that her personal experience at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection will inform her decision-making as she takes in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
“Well, frankly, all of us were witnesses to the horrific events of Jan. 6, so I don’t have very many questions,” Hirono (D-Hawaii) said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning. “I think the house managers will bring all of the information and evidence and remind us of the kind of chaos and harm that happened on Jan. 6.”
After that comes closing arguments and debate, which are expected to take the Senate at least into next week before a final vote. Short of a Nathan Jessup moment by Trump during the trial that he intended to overthrow Congress and install himself for a second term, we know the outcome, if not the precise numbers on conviction and acquittal. So what’s the point? To make sure that Congress attaches as many millstones around Trump’s neck as possible, just in case:
While the managers will likely fail to secure a prohibition on Trump serving in federal office in future, they hope to so damn him in public perception that a political comeback in 2024 will be impossible.
It’s already looking all but impossible at this point anyway, and not just because of what happened after this election. Trump planted his flag on the basis of winning, of claiming that only he knew how to fight, and that he would clear the swamp and produce so much winning everyone would tire of the joy of it. Losing to Joe Biden isn’t exactly a narrative-builder for a “winner,” especially when Trump made it clear that he couldn’t contain his own demons and impose enough self-discipline to keep from overshadowing his accomplishments for even three short months. Trump and his team never did calculate crisis exhaustion into their strategies and find ways for Trump to dial down his chaos to compensate. Biden rope-a-doped Trump into making himself the issue, and generated massive turnout amongst those who got tired of Trump’s schtick and just wanted to return to normal — as I predicted would happen a year ago.
At any rate, nothing will change by the end of this trial, but every senator will get their chance to deliver their final attacks and apologias on the Trump era. In that sense, it will be a rerun from last year’s trial, with only minor changes in the final score. At least this one will wrap up a lot more quickly.