What To Know About Donald Trump’s Senate Impeachment Trial

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.
Just when you thought impeachment season was coming to a close, a new set of trials will determine President Donald Trump’s future. On January 15, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially sent over the two articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives, ending a 27-day stalemate between our two most powerful legislative bodies. This move also set President Donald Trump’s formal Senate trial in motion. And ICYMI, it’s been quite the wild ride on Capitol Hill.
This whole thing started back in August, when a whistleblower complaint alleged that Trump tried to use his office — and state officials — to force a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political rival, Joe Biden. The so-called Ukraine scandal rankled most everyone in Washington D.C. in the following months, when speculation over repeated attempts to impeach Trump suddenly became very plausible. And, it all came to a head on September 24 when Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry, which lasted through mid-December.
After the House of Representatives called several key witnesses to trial, the House took a final vote on December 18 to determine whether or not Donald Trump would be the third impeached President in U.S. history. On December 18, a 230-197 party-line vote in the House approved two articles of impeachment: obstruction of congress and abuse of power.
And that seemed like the end of it — Donald Trump was officially impeached. But because nothing bureaucratic is ever simple, impeachment doesn’t actually mean removal from office. That’s where the Senate trial comes in. Now, the Senate will have the opportunity to conduct their own trial based on the articles of impeachment, but this time to determine criminality. Ahead, we’ve detailed what the next steps are in the Senate’s impeachment hearings.

What is the difference between the Senate and House impeachment trial?

Now that Trump is impeached, his trial will move from the House of Representatives to the Senate. The House tried him for impeachment, whereas the Senate will try him on criminal charges and determine if he should be removed from office. To date, the United States has never removed a sitting President from office following a Senate trial, though two presidents before Trump were both impeached: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. 
Following the impeachment vote, Pelosi could’ve just held onto the articles of impeachment indefinitely and left Trump in limbo for as long as he holds office. But the House Speaker delivered the articles to the Senate on January 15, even handing out souvenir pens in the process.

When will the Senate impeachment trial start?

On Tuesday, January 21, the Senate will begin its impeachment hearings. In January, Pelosi named Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Sylvia Garcia, Val B. Demings, Hakeem Jeffries and Jason Crow as the impeachment managers, functioning as prosecutors for the trial and responsible for making the House’s case for removal. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the impeachment managers would present the articles the following day, and began the process of establishing rules on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Will the Senate impeachment trial be televised?

Yes, the impeachment trial will be televised, but it will be very different from other congressional hearings you've watched on TV. This time, the Senate is controlling all cameras in the chambers and they will all have limited and fixed positions to avoid zoomed-in reaction shots. Although C-SPAN which is a cable-funded network, attempted to request cameras inside chambers, they haven't received a response yet — and likely won't. This essentially limits media coverage of the entire impeachment trial, which goes many precedents for reports, though it does mirror the same process as Bill Clinton's 1999 Senate trial.

How will the Senate impeachment trial work?

Unlike a normal trial, instead of a judge determining what will and won’t be admissible, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the power to introduce rules, shoot down proposals, dictate pace and control essentially every other facet of the trial. On Monday, January 20, McConnell announced that he plans to give House impeachment managers and Trump’s counselors each two days to lay out their opening arguments in court in an effort to stick to his speedy trial, taking place entirely between 1pm and 1am on consecutive days.
McConnell also already indicated that witnesses will be a hard no, even though Democrats have only requested four. Trial rules are established by a simple majority — which the Republicans have at roll call, 53-47. Unlike a normal trial, instead of a judge determining what will and won’t be admissible, McConnell will have the power to introduce new rules, shoot down proposals, dictate pace, and control essentially every other facet of the trial.

Who will be involved in the Senate impeachment trial?

All 100 senators will be involved at the Senate hearings, even the ones who are currently campaigning, which means that Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar will have to be in Washington during key weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses.  Chief Justice John Roberts will oversee proceedings and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will also play his leading role in determining the Senate’s trial rules throughout the process, in addition to the seven representatives that will act as impeachment prosecutors as named by Pelosi. On Monday, January 20, Trump’s counselors submitted a 110-page brief to the Senate calling for a swift acquittal.

What does the Senate vote for in the impeachment trial?

A couple of things. The Senate doesn’t just vote on Trump’s removal, they also vote on all the rules of the trial. The Senate will listen to arguments for and against the removal of the president, and they’ll vote to decide whether he should be acquitted or found guilty of criminal charges. 
A super majority is needed to actually remove a president, which means that anything less than 67 votes would spell an acquittal. For context, no president has ever been removed by impeachment, although Andrew Johnson was acquitted by just one vote.
But, whether or not the president committed a crime doesn’t need to be a determining factor in any verdict during this trial. What matters is whether those crimes warrant a removal, in the Senate’s view. As a matter of fact, there are Republican senators — and his own Chief of Staff — that have already conceded the notion that the president probably did the things the House impeached him for doing, but those same senators haven’t given any indication they would vote to remove him from office.

What will happen to President Trump in the Senate impeachment trial?

If 67 senators conclude that Trump is guilty of crimes in the articles of impeachment, he will be removed from office. In his place, Vice President Mike Pence, who is next in the line of succession, will step into the President’s role. If less than 67 senators conclude that asking Ukraine to help take down a political rival is a removable offense, then Trump would be acquitted — and presumably emboldened. But as nearly every Democrat has reiterated, not impeaching Trump would’ve likely done the same thing. So now, we wait.

What happened during opening arguments of the Senate impeachment trial?

At the end of January, opening arguments finally concluded between Democratic impeachment managers and Donald Trump's legal team. Democrats argued that Trump abused power by trying to investigate a political opponent by withholding Congress-approved funds from the Ukraine. Spearheaded by Schiff, the managers also argued that Trump's team attempted to stonewall the House of Representatives' subpoenas, and called repeatedly for the testimony of former national security advisor John Bolton. But, Trump's legal team responded by saying that all the accusations attempting to approve abuse of power were, in fact, "outside the range of impeachable offenses." Now that opening arguments have concluded, Wednesday marks the first day of questioning in the impeachment trial.

What is the Senate vote going to mean on February 5?

On Wednesday, the Senate will finally vote on charges against Trump that the House of Representatives impeachment him of. The difference here is that the Senate vote will try President Trump on criminal charges. If he is found guilty, he will be the first-ever President impeached by the Senate and removed from office. But, the Republican-majority Senate is reportedly going to acquit Trump of all charges instead, ending the impeachment trial and leaving Trump to continue running for a second term.
Related Content:

More from US News

R29 Original Series