Donald Trump on Wednesday became the third U.S. president to be impeached as the House of Representatives formally charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in a historic step that will inflame partisan tensions across a deeply divided America.
But Trump is still the U.S president until the articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, where the U.S senators will consider evidence, hear witnesses and vote to acquit or convict the him.
A two-thirds majority vote is required in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office. A conviction appears unlikely in the case of Trump.
The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. At least 20 Republicans would have to vote with all Democrats and the two independents to remove the president from office.
The chief justice of the US Supreme Court presides over the trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would like swift proceedings, but the president has said he would not mind a robust trial, with testimony from a number of witnesses, including Biden and the whistle-blower whose complaint led to the impeachment inquiry.
On Tuesday, McConnell appeared to reject the Democrats’ request for new witnesses in the trial, saying the Senate would not “do House Democrats’ homework for them” or go on a “fishing expedition” after the House impeachment process.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants to hear from four additional witnesses, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
McConnell said on Tuesday he hopes to meet Schumer soon to determine the next steps. He added that he is “optimistic” that Republicans and Democrats can agree on a “phase one” of the trial, which would include the presentation of the case and defence.
“We’ll see at that point whether there are 51 members of the Senate who want to take one of two directions – either going in the direction of witnesses or going in the direction of voting on the articles of impeachment,” McConnell was quoted by Reuters News Agency as saying.
But following Wednesday’s impeachment votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would wait, for now, to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
US media have reported that some House Democrats are urging Pelosi to withhold the transmittal of the articles until the “appropriate time”.
Pelosi on Wednesday evaded questions about when she plans to send the articles to the Senate.
“It would have been our intention” to send the articles to the Senate, but “we’ll see what happens over there,” Pelosi told reporters.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said, referring to members who will serve as House prosecutors in a Senate trial. “So far we have not seen anything that looks fair to us”.
Withholding the articles of impeachment may give the Democrats leverage when it comes to setting the procedures for the trial.
Pelosi said Democrats will make a decision on next steps as “a group”.