Trump impeachment: what happens after the articles are sent to the Senate?

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told congressional Democrats that she would call a vote on Wednesday to transmit articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate. She did not immediately name “managers” from the House who would prosecute the case against Donald Trump at his Senate trial.

Broadly speaking, the process against Trump now moves from the impeachment phase to the trial phase. The proceedings could result in Trump’s removal from office – but that is seen as unlikely.

Here’s what will happen next:

Pelosi names managers

Impeachment managers from the House will prosecute the trial against Trump in the Senate. Pelosi was expected to name the managers before the Wednesday vote.

House votes to transmit articles

The House was expected to approve a resolution to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate along similar lines as the articles themselves were approved. Article I, charging abuse of power, was approved 230-197 with one “present” vote. Article II, charging obstruction of Congress, was approved 229-198 with one “present” vote.

Thicket of formalities

According to arcane Senate rules, after the House notifies the Senate that impeachment managers have been selected, the secretary of the Senate, Julie Adams, tells the House that the Senate is ready to receive the articles. Then impeachment managers appear before the Senate to “exhibit” the articles, and the Senate confirms it will consider the case.

Roberts notified

The presiding officer of the Senate notifies the supreme court chief justice, John Roberts, of the impending trial. Roberts arrives in the Senate to administer an oath to members.

Senators take oath

Before consideration of the articles of impeachment, the presiding officer will administer this oath to senators: “I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws, so help me God.”

Senate votes on ground rules

The Senate must vote on a resolution laying out ground rules for the trial including who the key players will be, how long they will get to present their cases and other matters. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he has the votes to open the trial without an immediate provision for witness testimony, which could be secured later during the trial.

Writ of summons issued to Trump

After the Senate is “organized”, the rules decree, “a writ of summons shall issue to the person impeached, reciting said articles, and notifying him to appear before the Senate upon a day and at a place to be fixed by the Senate”. A president has never appeared at his own impeachment trial and Trump will be represented by the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and his personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, among others.

Senate trial

After the oath, the trial proper will begin – although there could be a short adjournment meanwhile to allow the sides to prepare. Impeachment managers will make their case, to be followed by the defense. Senators may not speak during the proceedings but may submit written questions to the chief justice who would cause them to be read. The question of witnesses and other questions would be decided on the fly by majority vote. A time limit for the proceedings will be established in the initial Senate vote.

Deliberation

The senators deliberate on the case. In the past this has happened behind closed doors and out of public view. But that’s open to change, too.

Final vote

The senators vote separately on the two articles of impeachment – the first charging Trump with abuse of power, the second charging him with obstruction of Congress. A two-thirds majority of present senators – 67 ayes if everyone votes – on either article would be enough to convict Trump and remove him from office. But that would require about 20 Republicans defections and is unlikely. The more likely outcome is a Trump acquittal, at which point the process is concluded, barring some highly unusual development such as the House taking action to impeach Trump again.