White House Dodges Taking a Position on Trump Impeachment Trial, Says Biden Leaving it to Congress

The Biden administration is avoiding taking a position on whether the U.S. Senate should vote to convict former President Donald Trump on an impeachment charge that he incited the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

"[President Joe Biden]'s no longer in the Senate, and he believes that it's up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday, again dodging giving a direct answer.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is on track to start Trump's trial as early as Tuesday. Though Biden hasn't directly addressed the issue of impeachment, he has publicly blamed Trump for the riot.

"In the past four years, we've had a president who's made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done," Biden said in a public address on January 7. "He unleashed an all-out assault on our institutions of our democracy from the outset, and yesterday was the culmination of that unrelenting attack."

Biden has not spoken to Trump directly since before the November 3 election, after a blistering campaign and Trump's refusal for weeks to admit Biden won the election. Biden said Trump left him a "generous" note in the Oval Office, but he has declined to release its full contents without Trump's approval.

The impeachment trial comes as the president works to get his administration in place and Senate approved, as Democrats navigate unity among the ranks of their new razor-thin Senate majority, and also as Biden pushes lawmakers to fast-track an aggressive 100-days agenda, largely centered on battling the coronavirus pandemic and fostering economic recovery. He's tasked Congress with swiftly passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which House members will begin working on next week in committee while eyeing a vote in early February.

But Psaki also signaled that an impeachment trial isn't entirely viewed as an impediment to the other goals.

"Remarkably at this moment in history we have some recent precedent of the Senate conducting an impeachment trial while also doing the business of the American people," Psaki said, alluding to Trump's Senate trial last year on accusations that he leveraged his political power for personal gain. "[Biden] remains confident—after serving decades in the Senate—that the Senate members of both parties can walk and chew gum at the same time."

Some senators have been split over whether the impeachment trial should move forward, as Trump is no longer in office. Democrats would need support from all of the party's senators, plus 17 Republicans in order to convict Trump.

Instead of removal from office, which would happen if a sitting president were convicted, Democratic leaders plan to vote to bar Trump from ever running for president again.

"It will be a full trial; it will be a fair trial," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Friday. "But make no mistake, there will be a trial, and when that trial ends, senators will have to decide if they believe Donald John Trump incited the insurrection against the United States."

The Democrat-controlled U.S. House swiftly voted to impeach Trump, with support from 10 Republicans, a week after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the certification of Biden's election win. Trump left office Wednesday, without attending Biden's inauguration, flouting tradition for outgoing presidents.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that the impeachment article will be transferred to the Senate on Monday, meaning the Senate trial would begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday unless McConnell and Schumer agree to different terms.

Capitol riot
Protesters supporting U.S. President Donald Trump break into the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. Pro-Trump protesters entered the U.S. Capitol building during demonstrations in the nation's capital. Win McNamee/Getty