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How The Senate Impeachment Trial Will Work

The Senate side of the Capitol is seen on the morning after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 19, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Senate side of the Capitol is seen on the morning after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Dec. 19, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

President Trump's fate is now in the hands of the Senate. The House of Representatives has impeached the president, and it is up to senators to determine whether he will be removed from office.

The House approved a resolution officially transmitting the articles to the Senate so it can begin the process of preparing for a trial.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had been holding off on doing that, saying she wanted details on how the trial would work. But she ultimately relented and tapped impeachment managers to serve as the prosecution team.

They were listed in the House resolution and will read the articles on the Senate floor before all senators are sworn in to serve as jurors.

Here are the outlines of what is expected during a Senate impeachment trial.


Setting The Ground Rules

Timing: Senate will vote on organizing resolution on Jan. 21

The details of a Senate impeachment trial are up for negotiation, but that negotiation essentially ended when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he had the votes to move ahead with a resolution outlining the process without Democrats. That is expected on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

McConnell plans to introduce a resolution that sets up a trial with two phases: first, sorting out who the key players are and how they will present their cases on whether to convict and remove the president from office, or to acquit him. The second stage would be whether to call witnesses and introduce more evidence.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had been pushing for a deal up front that would include testimony from witnesses, including Trump administration officials.

It takes only 51 votes to approve the rules, though, so McConnell can rely on his majority. Schumer has been unable to get four Senate Republicans to break with McConnell on Democrats' demands for witnesses.


The Trial

Timing: begins on Jan. 21

Once the trial begins, there are clear rules for each of the key players. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presides. Senators do not do the talking; they can only submit written questions. Impeachment managers from the House will represent the Democrats' argument. The president's defense is expected to include White House counsel and potentially outside attorneys. The White House declined to participate in the earlier House proceedings, which it considered a "sham."

The role of witnesses — if any — is unclear at this point, and it may not be completely sorted out until the trial has begun. Throughout the trial, there may be procedural votes around topics such as how evidence is introduced and which witnesses can be called.

This is where moderate Republicans could throw wrenches into the leadership's plans. Once again, these procedural votes require only a majority, and a 50-50 tie is considered a failure to pass because Vice President Pence cannot cast the deciding vote as he would (and has) in other cases. The chief justice is unlikely to want to cast a deciding vote as he presides over the trial, seeking to maintain impartiality.


The Final Vote

Timing: TBD

After the trial, the Senate votes on whether to convict or acquit the president on each article of impeachment. Convicting Trump and therefore removing him from office requires 67 votes. That would mean 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in the effort — a highly unlikely prospect.

Acquitting Trump of the charges or dismissing the charges, however, takes only 51 votes.

Can't see the graphics in this story? Click here.

Photos: Win McNamee/Getty Images (Mitch McConnell); Paul Morigi/Getty Images (Susan Collins); Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (Lisa Murkowski and John Roberts); Mark Wilson/Getty Images (Cory Gardner, Joe Manchin, Martha McSally and Chuck Schumer); Alex Wong/Getty Images (Doug Jones and Mitt Romney)

This story originally published on Dec. 31, 2019.

Copyright NPR 2020.

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