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Road Ahead: Impeachment trial imminent and war powers debate continues

Pelosi ready to send articles to Senate this week

Speaker Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi conducts her weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Impeachment action is bound for the Senate this week, ending the long standoff between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the framework of President Donald Trump’s trial. Pelosi intends to send the House’s articles of impeachment to the Senate and name impeachment managers, launching a trial that could begin before the week is out.

The impeachment articles, which the House approved in December, charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Pelosi will meet Tuesday morning with her caucus before scheduling a vote on a resolution to name managers — lawmakers who would act as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial — and authorize them to spend specific funds on the trial. After the resolution’s adoption, the articles will be formally sent to the Senate, a process involving pomp and a procession from the House.

Pelosi has not yet indicated which House members will serve as impeachment managers. Some names floated in recent weeks include familiar characters in the impeachment inquiry, including House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other members of their committees.

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The expected timeline means Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would be able to participate in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, instead of having to be in Washington for an impeachment trial. Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Cory Booker of New Jersey are also running for president but didn’t qualify for the debate. 

The Senate trial could still sideline the presidential hopefuls from the campaign trail in the crucial weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

“In an impeachment trial, every Senator takes an oath to ‘do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.’ Every Senator now faces a choice: to be loyal to the President or the Constitution,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter last week.

Once the Senate receives the impeachment articles and list of House managers, the chamber will notify the president that he is invited to come and respond, Sen. Roy Blunt said, when asked how long it will take for the trial to ramp up in the Senate.

“I think that’s at least two days of notice, and he could probably demand more, but I doubt he would,” the Missouri Republican said.

Weekend hours

A trial will trigger an unusual Senate schedule, with the chamber in session six days a week starting at 1 p.m., excluding Sundays, unless senators vote to institute a different schedule.

The Senate will have to approve a resolution detailing a framework for the impeachment trial before it gets under way. Pelosi originally withheld the articles on the condition that senators be able to call in new witnesses during the trial. McConnell has not agreed.

The Kentucky Republican is holding firm in his stance that any decisions on witnesses should come after an initial phase of the trial. He maintains that he intends to use the precedent of the Clinton impeachment trial, in two phases with opening arguments, a written question period and then a decision point on whether to call witnesses or not.

But GOP Sen. Susan Collins told reporters in Maine on Friday that she’s been working all week with a “fairly small group” of Republican senators to ensure trial rules would allow House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers to call witnesses.

“I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president’s counsel if they choose to do so,” Collins said, according to The Bangor Daily News. As of late last week, senators had not yet seen a final draft of the resolution McConnell intends to bring up.

War powers vote

If the House doesn’t vote until later in the week on the impeachment managers, that could give Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine enough time to force a Senate floor vote on his version of a war powers resolution before the chamber’s calendar becomes consumed with the Trump impeachment trial.

Kaine’s war powers resolution will ripen early in the week, setting up action on the measure that would “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military,” an attempt, he said, to prevent further escalation in the region. The resolution needs 51 votes to pass, and a vote could come as early as Tuesday.

Last week, GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky said they would vote for Kaine’s measure, and Kaine has been in conversations with a number of other Republicans to see if he can drum up more supporters. Kaine has agreed to remove specific references to Trump and make other changes to bring more GOP colleagues on board.

The House adopted its own war powers resolution last week but could take more action in the coming days. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Friday that while not yet on the schedule, it is possible that the chamber could take up a repeal of the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq from Rep. Barbara Lee and legislation from another Californian, Rep. Ro Khanna, that would bar funding for military action against Iran not authorized by legislators.

Khanna said Friday that the reason his measure is only tentatively on the schedule is that leadership is still working to ensure the caucus is comfortable with the language.

He said he is pushing for the text to be the same as the amendment he offered to the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in the House in July. His proposal was adopted 251-170 but was stripped out in negotiations with the Senate.

“We want to move fast but we also want to move [on language] which will have the biggest majority,” Khanna said. “Steny Hoyer has been very, very helpful in talking to some of the Frontline members and moderate members to bring them on board with the language in the bill and make sure that we are unified as caucus.”

Already on the House schedule this week is a measure aimed at protecting older workers from discrimination and a resolution disapproving of an Education Department rule related to borrowers.

The Senate will vote Monday evening to limit debate on the nomination of Peter Gaynor to be administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a confirmation vote expected later in the week.

Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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