Trump impeachment trial: What happens next as the articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced Tuesday that the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution naming the House impeachment managers, the step that will trigger a Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

Pelosi told reporters that the vote will take place Wednesday and the articles of impeachment will be transmitted – literally walked over – to the Senate, allowing the trial to begin. 

Here is a look at what will be coming in the next few weeks, and how we got here.

How did we get here?

On Dec. 18, after nearly three months of hearings and investigation, the House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump stemming from a phone conversation he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The articles claim Trump abused his power as president and obstructed Congress from investigating his alleged abuse of power.

Trump, House investigators said, tried to solicit foreign interference in the 2020 election by having Zelensky push an investigation into his likely 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The articles of impeachment claim that Trump withheld vital military aid and a White House meeting with Zelensky until he was promised the investigation into Biden and his son Hunter would take place. He also wanted an investigation into a conspiracy theory that suggests that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 US election, House Democrats claim.

The impeachment inquiry that led to the articles of impeachment was triggered by a whistleblower who reported the gist of a phone conversation that took place on July 25 between Trump and Zelensky where Trump allegedly pressured Zelensky for the investigation.

What will happen today?

Pelosi will announce at 10 a.m. Wednesday the names of the impeachment trial managers – the House members who will present the case against Trump.

Then, at noon, the House will convene to debate and vote on a resolution appointing those managers. At 5 p.m., the impeachment resolution will be approved in its final form and at 5:15 p.m., the managers and House leadership will walk the impeachment articles over to the U.S. Senate.

According to Senate sources, opening arguments on impeachment will begin on Tuesday.

What happens first in the Senate?

Once the articles reach the Senate, the Senate must pass a resolution on the trial rules and then send a summons to President Trump. The White House would then send a response to the summons.

After adopting trial procedures, it is likely the Senate will recess for several days to allow the House managers and the president’s lawyers to craft trial briefs – or the arguments both sides plan to make.

What are the rules?

Pelosi held up the transmittal of the articles in hopes of having an influence on the rules of the trial, specifically whether witnesses will be called.

However, how the Senate trial is conducted is up to the Senate majority leader and a majority of votes in the body. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is the Senate majority leader.

McConnell has said that he will use the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton as a guide for this impeachment trial. 

How was Clinton’s trial conducted? 

During Clinton’s impeachment, each side had 24 hours of floor time to present opening arguments and the facts of their cases. Following the opening arguments, the procedure then moved to a questioning period.

According to the Constitution, in an impeachment trial senators must be present during the proceedings but they may not speak. So, after the opening statements, senators were allowed to submit any questions they have for the House managers or the president’s defense attorneys to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In Clinton’s trial, it was Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Sixteen hours were reserved for those questions to be submitted during Clinton’s trial.

Who will be presiding over the trial? 

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial. He will accept senators' questions and read them to the House managers and Trump's attorneys. He will have the power to rule on motions, questions of evidence and the questions asked by senators. However, the Senate, with a simple majority vote, can reject his rulings they don't agree with. 

Is there any way for senators to call witnesses or change trial procedures? 

Following the questioning period, senators have the option to challenge the way the proceedings are going. They could file motions to subpoena witnesses or to dismiss the case. The motions require a simple majority – 51 votes – for a formal vote to take place on the motions.

There are 53 Republicans in the Senate, 45 Democrats and two Independents who generally vote with Democrats on issues.

If all the Democrats and the two independent senators vote in favor of a motion to call witnesses during the trial, they would still have to get four Republicans to vote with them in order to pass the motion to change the trial rules.

McConnell has said he has enough Republican support to set the trial structure without bipartisan agreement on any part – meaning that he does not believe Democrats can get the Republican votes needed to allow any change to his plans for how the trial will be conducted.

Democrats want to call witnesses; who are they? 

Democrats want to call at least four witnesses, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. They are acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney; former National Security Adviser John Bolton; White House aide Rob Blair, and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey.

How long will the trial last; what is the daily schedule? 

The trial should last around two weeks unless witnesses are called, then it could go longer. The Senate will go into session at 1 p.m. ET each day for six days a week (no trial on Sundays) and will likely stay in session until around 6:30 p.m. daily

The trial is expected to begin on Tuesday. The first day would include swearing-in Roberts as well as administering an oath to the senators.

The oath reads: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of (the person on trial), now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; So help me God.”

Who will be representing the president? 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone will be Trump's lead counsel, according to The New York Times. The president's private attorney, Jay Sekulow, along with two deputies from the counsel's office will be part of his team of lawyers.

How would the timing of the trial effect senators running for president? 

The trial is coming just weeks ahead of the Iowa caucus, the first chance voters will have to cast votes for candidates in the 2020 presidential election.

The Iowa caucuses will be held on Feb. 3.

Four senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination – Michael Bennet, Colorado; Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota; Bernie Sanders, Vermont and Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts – will be pulled from the campaign trail to serve as jurors.

There has been talk of dismissing the case, is that a possibility? 

On Monday, Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters that there were not enough Republican votes to pass a resolution to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Trump. “I think our members generally are not interested in a motion to dismiss. ... Certainly, there aren’t 51 votes for a motion to dismiss,” Blunt said.

Technically, it can be done. It takes a simple majority to dismiss the case without holding a trial.

What would it take for Trump to be convicted and removed from office? 

Trump can be convicted if 67 senators vote for conviction. That means that all the Democrats must vote for conviction and have convinced 20 Republicans to join them in voting that way.

If convicted, he would be removed from office and Vice President Mike Pence would be sworn in as president. In the more than 240-year history of the United States, Congress has never removed a president from office through impeachment.

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