The ultimate outcome of the trial does not appear to be in doubt: Trump will be acquitted by the Senate for the second time, falling well short of the two-thirds votes needed for conviction.
But that doesn’t mean the next week — and possibly two — will be without drama as the House impeachment managers recount the destruction caused in the deadly January 6 riot and argue that Trump was the one who incited the insurrectionists to ransack the US Capitol.
But the Democrats’ brief trial balloon that Trump should testify underscores the logistical hurdles that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still have to navigate for the first step of the trial: its rules.
Senate wants a speedy trial
Schumer and McConnell and their aides have been engaged in extensive discussions about the trial’s organizing resolution, which the Senate will pass before arguments begin. Unlike last year’s trial, both sides hope to reach a bipartisan agreement on the trial’s parameters, which will include how long the impeachment managers and defense team get to make their arguments, how witnesses could be called and other matters.
There’s reason for bipartisan optimism in the Senate — when it comes to logistics at least — because both sides are seeking a speedy trial. While the House impeachment managers are eyeing a proceeding that could last up to two weeks, some Senate Democrats are pushing for a quicker time frame.
While Republicans are in no rush to confirm Biden’s Cabinet, they also don’t have a desire for the public to remain fixated on the events of January 6 — and on the former President — in a lengthy trial.
The expectation on all sides is that Trump’s second impeachment trial will be shorter than the first, which lasted three weeks. Just how much shorter is still being negotiated.
Schumer’s office said Saturday night that the Senate will accommodate a request from one of Trump’s impeachment attorneys, David Schoen, to halt the trial during the Jewish Sabbath.
This would mean the trial would be suspended at sundown Friday and potentially not reconvene until Sunday.
“We respect their request and of course will accommodate it. Conversations with the relevant parties about the structure of the trial continue,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.
GOP senators preview trial vote
It was a telling vote since Democrats will need at least 17 Republican senators to vote to convict Trump and bar him from running for future office.
Trump’s defense team will likely use this exact argument next week to defend the former President.
“The constitutional provision requires that a person actually hold office to be impeached. Since the 45th President is no longer ‘President,’ the clause ‘shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for …’ is impossible for the Senate to accomplish,” Trump’s team wrote.
The House impeachment managers pushed back on that point, writing there is precedent to hold a trial and convict Trump, who was impeached by the House last month while he was still in office.
“There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” the managers wrote. “A president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.”
‘A Senate of courage or cowardice’
The House impeachment managers haven’t made a final decision on whether they will call witnesses for the trial. They’re preparing for the possibility they won’t have any witnesses — but they may decide to use them if they find a witness willing to voluntarily step forward, according to sources.
The managers want to avoid any kind of court fight over witnesses like the House had to deal with during the first impeachment of Trump, which would delay the trial further.
Even without witnesses, Democrats are preparing to use evidence from video and social media to help illustrate how Trump’s words, actions and tweets incited the rioters to attack the Capitol.
The trial is sure to be compelling. While Republicans are relying on a procedural argument as reason to dismiss the impeachment charge against Trump — avoiding a judgment on his conduct — the House’s presentation will catapult senators — and the public — back to the harrowing events of January 6 when senators were forced to flee the chamber.
For Democrats, the trial is likely to be as much about holding Trump and the Republican lawmakers who pushed his false claims of election fraud accountable in the public eye than it is the all-but-impossible task of flipping 17 Republican votes.
“In the court of the Senate, they will make their case. And in the court of public opinion, they will make their case,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference Thursday.
“And for history and posterity, as our founders said, to ourselves and our posterity, they will make the case. But I have great confidence in them, and we’ll see. We’ll see if it’s going to be a Senate of courage or cowardice.”
CNN’s Manu Raju and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.