Just as soon as the House concluded votes on Friday and most lawmakers rushed to the airport, garage or Union Station, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signaled that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) should be ready in the coming days to summon to the floor the measure to appoint impeachment managers and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Pelosi did not give a concrete day or time as to when this would happen. The Speaker says she will talk to Democrats at the weekly caucus meeting Tuesday “on how we proceed further.” The expectation on Capitol Hill is that the House will vote to send the articles of impeachment across the Capitol on Tuesday or Wednesday.
So, here’s what you need to know about what happens next:
Tuesday is a pivotal day. The House Democratic Caucus huddles in the morning. It’s possible the Speaker could announce her plan immediately after the caucus meeting and the debate/vote could happen that same day. It’s also possible the House may not tangle with the measure until later in the week. But Tuesday is the earliest anything will now come to the floor.
Here’s what needs to happen mechanically – regardless of when Pelosi pulls the trigger.
The articles are usually tucked into cherry wood or cedar boxes and escorted across the Capitol with a procession led by House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger.
Pelosi decides when to put the measure on the floor. One story unto itself will be the announcement of the impeachment managers. Who are they? Where are they from? How many? Is it a large group or a finite group? Republicans tapped 13 white men as impeachment managers for President Clinton’s 1999 trial. Pelosi is likely to select a smaller and more diverse group to represent the House before the Senate.
The House then has a short ten-minute debate on sending the impeachment measure plus the managers to the Senate. This will require a simple majority vote. Once the House approves that measure, the articles are ready to be walked across the Capitol to the Senate.
This is where things get tricky:
Even if the House approves the articles, it’s unclear when exactly the articles of impeachment are actually packed up and physically walked from the House side of the Capitol, through Statuary Hall, through the Capitol Rotunda, by the “mini-Rotunda,” paraded through the Ohio Clock Corridor and deposited in the Senate. The articles are usually tucked into cherry wood or cedar boxes and escorted across the Capitol with a procession led by House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger. This process could happen within an hour or two of the House voting to send the articles to the Senate – or, potentially days, later. The “when” is a big question here.
Then, it’s the Senate’s turn to wrestle with impeachment.
The Senate adopted a set of 26 rules in 1986 to handle impeachments.
Senate Impeachment Rule I states that once the House votes to appoint managers “The Secretary of the Senate shall immediately inform the House of Representatives that the Senate is ready to receive the managers for the purpose of exhibiting such articles of impeachment.”
This means that the Senate must approve a resolution, indicating it is prepared to receive the House’s articles. The Senate can’t get the articles until it acts. The House cannot send the articles across the Capitol until the Senate says it’s ready.
The Senate then usually sets a time/date to receive the articles in that resolution.
Senate Impeachment Rule II says “When the managers of an impeachment shall be introduced at the bar of the Senate and shall signify that they are ready to exhibit articles of impeachment against any person, the Presiding Officer of the Senate shall direct the Sergeant at Arms to make proclamation, who shall, after making proclamation, repeat the following words, viz: ‘All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against_______ ______’; after which the articles shall be exhibited, and then the Presiding Officer of the Senate shall inform the managers that the Senate will take proper order on the subject of the impeachment, of which due notice shall be given to the House of Representatives.”
In other words, the Senate gets the articles. Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger announces the “exhibition of the articles.” The articles are read before the Senate and the impeachment managers are recognized.
At that point, the Senate trial is technically underway. This is the first step in the Senate trial.
Even at that stage, we may be at least a few days if not a week away from getting into the meat of the trial.
For instance, the Senate dealt with the “mechanics” of receiving the impeachment articles from the House on January 7 and 8, 1999. But then, the Senate took until January 14, 1999 to start the trial in earnest. In this case, the Senate may need time to prepare itself to put on the trial. The impeachment managers may need time to prepare the prosecution. The President must also decide on his defense team. That team must also be prepared to go.
In short, you just don’t get on the floor and wing it.
This is the second step in the trial. It’s where U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts swears-in senators as jurors.
That’s why even if the House sends the articles to the Senate Tuesday or Wednesday, it’s possible the Senate doesn’t even get to the first step in the process – and certainly the substance of the trial – for a few days. In fact, with the Martin Luther King holiday scheduled for Monday, January 20, it’s entirely possible nothing happens until January 21 or beyond.
Somewhere in this process, the Senate may conduct a debate and vote on how to handle the trial. This is the framework which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has spoken about. This would dictate how much time the Senate allocates for House managers to present their case, how much time the President’s team gets to defend him, how much time senators have to submit questions (usually in writing, through the Chief Justice) and, if and when there will be any witnesses. McConnell has advocated following the Clinton trial model. That provided for each side to have 24 total hours to make their cases. Senators had a total of 16 hours to pose questions and get responses. It’s also possible that the Senate could have votes on summoning/rejecting witnesses down the line.
The Senate voted 100-0 in 1999 to approve the Senate trial rules. This time, McConnell has suggested he may just try to lock-in the Clinton trial rules with a simple majority – which is the Leader’s right.
If the Senate fails to agree to any “special rules,” ala the Clinton model, then Senate Impeachment Rule III kicks in:
“Upon such articles being presented to the Senate, the Senate shall, at 1 o’clock after noon of the day (Sunday excepted) following such presentation, or sooner if ordered by the Senate, proceed to the consideration of such articles and shall continue in session from day to day (Sundays excepted) after the trial shall commence (unless otherwise ordered by the Senate) until final judgment shall be rendered, and so much longer as may, in its judgment, be needful. Before proceeding to the consideration of the articles of impeachment, the Presiding Officer shall administer the oath herein after provided to the Members of the Senate then present and to the other Members of the Senate as they shall appear, whose duty it shall be to take the same.”
In other words, the Senate meets six days a week at 1 pm ET for a trial. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is sure to make the five Democratic senators running for President very unhappy, especially on the precipice of the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary. The reason for a 1 pm start time? The Senate can still conduct other business on legislation or nominations in the morning. Also, the Chief Justice needs to preside – but could have other duties across the street at the Supreme Court.
The Senate met for 22 total trial sessions (including two dates for the opening phases) between January 7, 1999 and February 12, 1999. Those meetings consumed 104 hours and 22 minutes. The Supreme Court met for oral arguments on two days the Senate conducted a trial. On those days, the Senate didn’t convene for the trial until the afternoon.
In 1999, the Senate rejected an effort by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) to dismiss the charges. A motion to dismiss could be in order here, requiring a simple majority vote.
At the end of the trial, it takes 67 votes to convict and remove the President from office.
A couple of things to note:
Senate Impeachment Rule X states that “The person impeached shall then be called to appear and answer the articles of impeachment against him. If he appears, or any person for him, the appearance shall be recorded, stating particularly if by himself, or by agent or attorney, naming the person appearing and the capacity in which he appears. If he does not appear, either personally or by agent or attorney, the same shall be recorded.” So, it’s possible (possible) the President could be called to appear at the trial.
There are multiple schools of thought as to how long a trial may last. The conventional wisdom is that it’s wrapped up by the end of the month. But a bona fide trial – adhering to the Clinton model – could consume weeks and run deep into February, if not March. And regardless, how soon it wraps up is predicated on when the trial actually begins.