US President Joe Biden’s message to Senate Democratic leaders on former President Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial is clear: Keep it short and don’t let it derail his agenda.
Biden has never embraced Trump’s second impeachment though he hasn’t sought to stand in its way either amid outrage in his party over the former president’s involvement in the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol.
Yet he and his team have always been cognizant of the risks of a trial so early in his term as he seeks to win a deal on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
This was in question early on, but a Senate vote this week in which only five Republicans voted against tabling a motion calling the trial unconstitutional made it certain the Senate will not win the two-thirds vote necessary for conviction.
Biden administration officials and allies close to the White House say the president will distance himself from Trump’s trial as it begins in the second week of February.
“He’s going to let the Senate do what it needs to do,” said one Biden ally close to the White House. “We always knew this was going to happen. We always knew this would be the position we’re in now with Republicans. And now he’s going to respect the process and let it play out.”
The impeachment trial poses some risks to Biden, and some Democrats had warned it could torpedo his early agenda.
The best thing for Biden, now that a conviction for Trump seems off the table, is for the trial to begin and to end so that the Senate can quickly move back to more full time work on legislation and confirming Biden nominees.
“He’s come to the White House with a strong unity message and the last thing he wants is for the impeachment trial to define the early days of his presidency,” one ally said.
After the Jan. 6 on the Capitol, Cedric Richmond, who resigned from Congress to become a senior Biden adviser, expressed immediate support for impeachment, according to a source familiar with the internal conversations on Biden’s team.
But several prominent Democrats in both chambers voiced concern early in the process about a Senate impeachment trial delaying Biden’s agenda. They predicted that only a few Republican senators would ultimately vote to convict Trump.
“We already know the outcome before it starts and that’s frustrating to everybody,” said a Senate Democratic aide after this week’s vote on the motion sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a key Biden ally whose endorsement was pivotal in the 2020 election, advocated for waiting after Biden’s first 100 days in office before sending an article of impeachment to the Senate.
Across the Capitol, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) privately expressed concerns that confirming Biden’s Cabinet nominees and moving a COVID-19 relief package should be the top priorities.
Murphy said “my point privately was not necessarily that we shouldn’t hold a trial but we needed a couple weeks to get the Cabinet in place and to get COVID [relief] moving.”
Kaine said Friday he raised early concerns about “the likely outcome” of a trial.
“I just felt as outrageous as the behavior was and as much as accountability is needed, I just didn’t see a way that Republicans would get to 17 votes to convict,” he said. “I thought about it as soon as the House started to do it.
He said “the urgent need is COVID relief and I know Chuck feels the same way,” he added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on Jan. 10 that holding an impeachment trial when Trump is no longer in office “doesn’t make any common sense whatsoever.”
Biden has never said anything publicly critical of the trial.
In fact, earlier this week he told CNN he thought “it has to happen.”
Immediately after the riot, Biden signaled the decision was for lawmakers.
“What the Congress decides to do is for them to decide,” Biden said Jan. 8.
He said he understood the impact impeachment could have on his upcoming legislative agenda but warned there could be “a worse effect if it didn’t happen.”
Kaine this past week discussed with colleagues what he calls a resolution of condemnation that could later trigger the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on anyone who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion from holding office.
He said the purpose is to establish fact findings about Trump inciting insurrection and providing aid and comfort to enemies of the United States.
Kaine said he discussed his proposal with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of Biden’s closest Senate allies.
Democrats now realize that publicly questioning the point of a trial will only give Republicans political ammo and are dutifully steeling themselves for sitting through a second impeachment trial in just more than a year, even though the outcome has been predetermined.
“This is a process where if the House does it and sends the papers over, [in] the Senate our hands are tied,” Kaine said.