Standing before the Senate, representative Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager and a constitutional law scholar, formally notified the 100-member body that the managers were prepared to lead the prosecution of the former president. He then read the article aloud.
“Donald John Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by inciting violence against the government of the United States,” he said, as senators listened silently.
Though the delivery and formal reading of the charge marks the opening of Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment trial, Senate leaders agreed last week to delay the proceedings for two weeks, allowing time for the chamber to consider Joe Biden’s cabinet nominations while Trump’s defense prepares its case.
Biden on Monday told CNN Trump’s trial “has to happen,” even if chances that Republicans will vote to convict are slim.
Still, the timing ensures that the initial weeks of Biden’s presidency will be dominated by the impeachment trial of his predecessor, who, deprived of his Twitter account, has remained conspicuously quiet since departing the White House last week.
Raskin said in a statement on Monday the managers were prepared to “present overwhelming evidence of the facts” that Trump’s incendiary speech to supporters at a rally near the White House during which he implored them to “fight like hell” paved the way for the violence that followed.
Unlike during Trump’s first trial, Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate president pro tempore, presided from behind the dais, assuming a role filled last time by chief justice John Roberts.
While the constitution clearly states that the chief justice of the supreme court oversees an impeachment trial of the president, it does not address who should preside over proceedings for other officials, including former presidents.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, only recently reclaimed the title, reserved for the longest-serving senator in the majority party, after Democrats took control of the Senate earlier this year. Earlier this year, Leahy joined his Democratic colleagues in voting to convict Trump on two counts: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
In a statement on Monday, Leahy vowed that he would “not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the constitution and the laws”.
The Senate received the article as divisions deepened within the Republican conference over whether to convict Trump for his role in stoking the 6 January assault on the US Capitol that left five people dead.
Unlike Trump’s first trial, Republicans have been slower to rally his defense. Some Republican senators, such as Mitt Romney, have said he believed Trump committed an impeachable offense, while others, including Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, have signaled an openness to convicting the former president, after he waged a baseless, weeks-long campaign to overturn his election defeat.
But they’re two of just a handful of Republican senators have expressed an openness to convicting Trump, who left office with the lowest approval rating of his presidency but maintains strong support among the Republican base.
Most Republican senators have refused to engage with the question of whether Trump committed an impeachable offense. Instead, they have objected to the nature of the trial itself, arguing that the Senate doesn’t have the constitutional authority to convict a president after he has left office. Some have said they hope to hold an early vote to dismiss the trial entirely, though the effort is unlikely to succeed.
The mounting opposition to a trial is a sign that many Republicans are still unwilling to cross Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republican senators to convict him. If convicted, the Senate could then hold a vote to disqualify him from office.
The House impeached Trump earlier this month, in an emotional vote exactly one week after the Capitol siege. Ten Republicans joined with House Democrats to charge Trump with “high crimes and misdemeanors”, making him the first president in American history to be impeached twice.
But as time has passed and Trump retreats from the national stage, Republican anger over his actions has faded. In the hours after the siege, Senator Lindsey Graham, a stalwart ally of Trump, furiously denounced the then-president’s actions. But in the weeks since, the South Carolina senator has argued vehemently against impeachment and helped connect Trump with an attorney to represent him in his upcoming impeachment trial.
Appearing on NBC this Sunday, Senator Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota, called the trial “a moot point” because it could not result in Trump being removed from office. Calling a trial “stupid” and “counterproductive”, Marco Rubio of Florida said on Sunday that he would vote to end the proceedings “the first chance I get”.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer rejected the argument as illogical in a floor speech on Monday, saying it “makes no sense whatsoever that a president – or any official – could commit a heinous crime against our country and then defeat Congress’ impeachment powers by simply resigning, so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disqualify them from future office”.
“The trial is going to happen,” Schumer concluded. “It is certainly and clearly constitutional. And if the former president is convicted, there will be a vote to disqualify him from future office.”