Senators look to clear legislative decks before impeachment trial

Notice requirements could give just enough time

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks to the media following the Senate Democrats’ policy lunch on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., speaks to the media following the Senate Democrats’ policy lunch on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 14, 2020 at 4:04pm

The Senate appears set to try to clear the decks of pending legislative business before diving into the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

That could include delivering a big policy victory to the president on trade.

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing that the trial will not get underway in earnest until next week, there should be just enough time to complete work on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, as well as to have a debate on war authorities.

Under the likely impeachment timeline, assuming that the House votes to name trial managers on Wednesday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced, the Senate has two or three days left to legislate before the Senate protocols for the trial take over.

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Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters that he expected some procedural maneuvering on Wednesday, with an appearance by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. coming on Thursday.

“On Thursday, we would hear the articles of impeachment brought over by the managers. And at that point, the president pro tem of the Senate will swear in the chief justice for his unique responsibilities here. And then the chief justice would swear all of us in and, and we believe that’s sort of the end of this week,” Blunt said.

Senators said there was no expectation that there would be enough time for getting into the actual trial before the end of the current week.

“With the summoning of the president and the requirement that the House managers have to be able to present their trial briefs, there’s a timing for all of that,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski explained. “As I look through that kind of schedule, it’s — unless the House were to deliver something like right now, I don’t see how you could really do that.”

Iran debate possible

A vote on an amended version of a war powers resolution introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., that would seek to restrict the use of force against Iran without new congressional authorization could be on the floor as early as Wednesday.

Three members of the Senate Democratic caucus are participating in Tuesday night’s presidential debate at Drake University in Iowa. Those three — Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont — are going to be critical votes for the possible passage of the Kaine-led resolution.

War powers measures are considered under expedited procedures that do not allow for filibusters, so they can pass with just a simple majority of senators in support without the 60-vote procedural hurdles that are so commonplace.

Committees are also seeking to wrap up consideration of the implementing legislation for the new trade pact between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that would replace NAFTA, and Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said earlier in the day there could be time to fit in floor debate on the trade agreement before the end of this week as well.

“I think the Foreign Relations Committee has moved their hearing back from Thursday to Wednesday in hopes of having it ready for floor action by Thursday,” Thune said. “If that happened, we could get USMCA done, kind of wedged in there between, you know, the receiving the articles, swearing in senators and then starting the trial.”