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Wednesday’s vote to impeach President Trump marked the end of a painstaking, and at times grinding, investigative process that took place over the course of three months in the House of Representatives. Impeachment now moves to a trial in the Senate, where there are indications things may move at a much more accelerated pace.
The ultimate outcome of the trial is almost certain. Even the most optimistic liberal forecasters find the likelihood that 20 Republicans — the number needed to join Democrats in a vote to convict and remove the president — will break party ranks to be close to unimaginable. Trump is widely expected to survive the trial and remain in office.
The path to that expected conclusion is much less clear. The Constitution provides no formal outline for how the Senate trial should be carried out. There are some existing rules from previous impeachments, but any of those could be changed by a simple majority vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants an expedited trial, and on Tuesday he appeared to reject Democrats’ request for additional witnesses who weren’t interviewed in the House investigation. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted impeachment would “die quickly” in the Senate.
Why there’s debate
With the outcome essentially determined, the substance of the trial takes on extra weight, as both parties hope to influence voters’ decisions in the 2020 election.
There are currently 53 Republicans in the Senate, meaning McConnell can execute his plan for a speedy trial as long as the caucus stays united. Unless a handful of GOP senators break ranks, the Senate trial could be over in a flash with limited testimony and no new witnesses heard. “We ought to vote and move on," McConnell said.
The GOP has been remarkably cohesive during the Trump presidency, but a few senators might see political risk in appearing to rush through impeachment and may vote for rules that could make the trial last longer. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, could also try to produce a more substantial trial, although his powers are limited. Another force that could extend proceedings is President Trump himself, who reportedly prefers a longer “spectacle” of a trial.
After Wednesday’s vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would hold off on sending the impeachment articles to the Senate until she was confident there would be a fair hearing. She didn’t provide details on what she would consider fair or how long she might be willing to delay the exchange, but she could theoretically do so indefinitely.
The Senate trial will be a rubber stamp in Trump’s favor
“With Republicans in control of the Senate, the president can rest easy when it comes to the next stage of the impeachment proceedings.” — Julian Zelizar, CNN
The flimsy charges in the articles of impeachment should be dismissed quickly
“All told, the House promised enough damning information against President Trump to merit his indictment for the moral equivalent of carjacking. Instead, the Democrats’ scrawny articles of impeachment do not equal a speeding ticket.” — Deroy Murdock, Fox News
Republicans have no interest in exploring the allegations against Trump
“Rather than confronting the substance of the allegations against him, senators seem set on redirecting the focus of the trial to former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate, and other figures like the whistleblower whose complaint helped launch the impeachment inquiry. These counternarratives don’t rebut the allegations Trump faces so much as they seek to distract from them.” — Li Zhou, Vox
The modern GOP doesn’t care whether Trump abused his office
“The essential difference between Nixon and Trump lies not in their misconduct or in their unsuitability for office, but in the grim refusal of today’s Republican Party to notice wrongdoing and its determination to stand by Trump come what may.” — Nicholas Kristof, New York Times
Chief Justice Roberts could use his influence to make the trial last longer
“Sen. Mitch McConnell supposes that it’s up to him to determine the way President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will proceed in the Senate. … But McConnell is wrong: It is Chief Justice John Roberts, not the majority leader, who will be making all the key decisions.” — Bruce Ackerman, Slate
Only a handful of GOP senators are needed to extend the trial
“If three or more Republican senators now join Democrats in insisting that the trial be structured to be the kind of full and fair trial anticipated by the Constitution and by the Senate Rules on Impeachment Trials, they can do a lot to make a fair trial happen.” — William Kristol and Jeffery Tulis, The Bulwark
Republicans won’t want to appear to have rushed the process
“A Senate impeachment trial [is] a strange animal. It has the trappings of a criminal trial but isn’t one. It has no fixed procedures but will follow whatever course 51 senators choose, even if they make it up as they go along. And it doesn’t have to be ‘fair’ — except to the extent that senators want it to seem to be fair. Which is reasonably likely.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg
Disagreements over rules could cause the trial to drag on
“In the absence of procedural agreements between the parties on witness lists, interviewing protocols and rules of evidence, opportunities for chaos-creating controversies abound.” — William A. Galston, Wall Street Journal
Trump’s influence could compel the GOP to hold a made-for-TV show trial
“The president and Senate Republicans also seem on a path to butt heads over the look and feel of the upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Trump would prefer it become more of a TV spectacle with high-profile witnesses and smooth-talking attorneys to fully exonerate him, while Senate Republicans would prefer that it end quickly with not much fanfare.” — Nancy Cook and Gabby Orr, Politico
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP