The starting gun for Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is fired today with the Article Of Impeachment sent to the US Senate.
Republicans and Democrats have agreed on the start date for the trial – 8 February – but not much else, it seems. The ground rules for the trial are still being discussed.
Democrats had hoped to run the trial concurrently with the opening legislative business of the Biden presidency, in a kind of split screen politics, but Republicans would not play ball. The Senate will need to have confirmation hearings for Biden cabinet appointees and the discussion of a $1.9trn COVID relief bill out of the way before the trial begins.
The key question now: How many Republicans are likely to join Democrats to convict the former president? A two-thirds majority is required for conviction. That would need all 50 Democrat senators and 17 Republicans to join them.
On the Sunday morning talk shows Mitt Romney was prepared to countenance the idea, saying: “No question that the article sent over by the House suggests impeachable conduct.
“I will do my best to apply justice on the merit of the argument.”
But Senator Marco Rubio, no fan of Donald Trump, was not.
“The first chance I get to vote to end this trial I will, because it’s a really bad move for the country. This is a political trial, it’s not a criminal trial – it will continue to fuel divisions and has turned us into a country that hates each other.”
Republican senators may be tempted to convict the ex-president because it would bar him from seeking re-election in 2024. But on the other hand they must weigh the damage he can do to their careers. Donald Trump still has a huge following and considerable political power which he can wield at will to undermine their chances of being selected and elected.
Outgoing Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is said to be pleased about Mr Trump’s trial, hopeful it could make it easier for the former president to be purged from the Republican Party. A conviction is not out of the question, once all the evidence has been heard.
On the streets of Washington DC, most were enthusiastic about Mr Trump being tried, hoping for a conviction. They also accept it could be very divisive for the country. Only a handful in this Democrat-controlled city opposed the idea, with some insisting the charges against Trump were “fake news”.
The trial is guaranteed to overshadow the start of the Biden presidency and likely to renew the rancour and division of the last four years. For some, that is a price worth paying to hold Mr Trump to account and set an example to others. For others, it is time to move on.