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Senate Impeachment Trial Of Ex-President Trump Will Begin Feb. 9

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, Democrats will carry impeachment papers from the House to the Senate to officially mark the start of the second impeachment trial against Donald Trump. The single article accuses former President Trump of inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Tonight will be the ceremonial beginning of a trial that is set to get underway two weeks from now. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed yesterday that the process must go forward even though Trump has left office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Everyone wants to put this awful chapter in American history behind us. But sweeping it under the rug will not bring healing. The only way to bring healing is to actually have real accountability, which this trial affords.

MARTIN: We've got NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell with us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: Why start things today only to delay the trial for two weeks?

SNELL: This started because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for a delay to give Trump's team time to prepare and to give the Senate more time to get some work done. You know, once a trial begins, senators have to sit in their seats in the chamber, and all other Senate work has to stop. And it basically takes all of the energy and oxygen out of Washington while the trial goes on. And President Biden backed the delay because he wants his Cabinet in place.

It also gives Senate Democrats some time to work on a COVID relief package that they promised and just to get a little bit of work done. So they'll start by transmitting those articles of impeachment. Senators will get sworn in as jurors, and the pretrial briefs will be due on the 8 so that the trial can begin on the 9.

MARTIN: Republican senators have been expressing a number of objections to the trial itself. Tell us what they've been saying.

SNELL: Primarily, we've been hearing from senators who say that this process may be unconstitutional. They don't agree with the idea of holding a trial after Trump has already left office. Here's what Florida's Marco Rubio said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

MARCO RUBIO: I think the trial is stupid. I think it's counterproductive. We already have a flaming fire in this country, and it's like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.

SNELL: That's a pretty blunt assessment and kind of giving the other side of this, which is Republicans say that, you know, doing an impeachment trial once Trump is gone just makes the tensions in the country worse.

MARTIN: Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate. They're going to need Republican support to convict. How are they responding to their Republican colleagues making these arguments?

SNELL: I talked to lead impeachment manager Congressman Jamie Raskin. He is a constitutional scholar, and he says that impeachment is a constitutional tool, and it's one that applies on the first day of a presidency and the last day of a presidency. It doesn't just stop being valid because somebody lost an election. But it's true you would need 17 Republicans to vote along with Democrats, and that number seems very difficult to find.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you.

SNELL: Thank you.

MARTIN: We're going to bring in Senator Angus King of Maine at this point. He's an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Senator King, thanks for being back on the show.

ANGUS KING: Glad to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to start by asking you to respond to that clip we just heard from Senator Marco Rubio. He says the coming impeachment trial is like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.

KING: Well, it strikes me as a little disingenuous for people who have been building the fire and throwing gasoline on it for months to suddenly say, oh, no, no, we have to stop now. We have to have unity. These were the people that were spreading disunion. I'm not talking about Marco himself but generally, the president, of course, and many of his allies in Congress. So to say now we have to forget about and shove under the rug one of the most egregious assaults on American democracy in our history in the name of unity - when the folks who were saying that weren't so interested in unity a couple of months ago.

MARTIN: And for the record, you supported the president's impeachment in the House. Have you made up your mind about whether or not to vote to convict?

KING: No. There are two - well, I'm - clearly, I just used the word egregious. I mean, I'm very concerned about what happened. And by the way, this will be one of the first impeachment trials in history where all of the jurors were also witnesses 'cause we were there that day. But there are two pieces of evidence that I think need to be developed at the trial. One is, what did the president know that morning when he addressed that crowd? What did he have for intelligence in terms of the nature of the crowd, what their plans were, whether they were talking about violence and storming the Capitol. If he knew that, it seems to me that raises a really bad inference for his role.

The second is, what did he do that afternoon to quell it? Once we knew that the Capitol had been stormed, did he take any actions, serious actions, to try to quell it or, as there has been reporting, did he think it was a kind of cool thing going on up there? So I think those two facts will have an influence on the outcome of this trial.

MARTIN: I want to pivot and ask you about the COVID relief package before Congress that Kelsey mentioned above. You were on a call yesterday with a bipartisan group of senators and the White House about the Biden administration's plan. This has got a price tag of $1.9 trillion. What came out of that meeting?

KING: Well, I think the first thing to say is the fact that the meeting even happened was something that hasn't happened in recent years, where you had a genuine, open, free discussion between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators. That - I haven't seen that recently, so I think that's positive in itself. It was a very cordial meeting. I'd call it more exploratory than definitive. It was - there were a lot of questions.

And this group, the bipartisan group, which, by the way, includes a couple of House members of both parties, really wanted the data. A lot of the questions were where did that number come from? What - what's the basis...

MARTIN: The $1.9 trillion.

KING: ...Number for the schools or for state and local or vaccines? We want to try to get into the weeds on some of these details. There was general consensus, however, that we've got to do whatever we have to do to speed up the vaccination process. I don't think there's going to be any debate about that. It's just question of, you know, how do we do it? Where are the bottlenecks?

MARTIN: When can Americans expect relief from this package?

KING: Well, we're going to try to do something between now and the time of the impeachment trial beginning. That's a tall order because we also have to do the confirmations, as you mentioned. But we've already done a couple last week. We have one this afternoon. So that's the plan. But it's a big - you know, it's a big deal. There's a lot of money, and this isn't Monopoly money. We're borrowing this money from our grandchildren, and we want to be sure it's going to be properly allocated and spent and really make the impact. So...

MARTIN: OK.

KING: ...Two weeks would be an aggressive schedule. But that's - I think that's where we're going to be going. Our group's going to be having another meeting either today or tomorrow. And we'll proceed as fast as we can.

MARTIN: We appreciate you being here. Senator Angus King of Maine, thanks for your time.

KING: Great to be with you, Rachel. Any time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.