WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives moved closer on Wednesday to impeaching Donald Trump, as the president and senior Republicans appeared to converge on the idea of a shorter trial once the charges come to the Senate in the new year.
The House Judiciary Committee was due to meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (0000 GMT) to consider formal articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
The committee is expected to approve the charges on Thursday. The full Democratic-led House was likely to follow suit next week, making Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.
After initially saying he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy trial in the Republican-led Senate, Trump appeared to be leaning toward the idea of having a shorter proceeding there that would allow him to move quickly past the threat to his presidency, two sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.
Trump’s new thinking could remove a potential source of friction with Senate Republicans, who appeared to balk at the idea of a long trial with witnesses.
But it was not yet clear whether Trump was ready to abandon his demand for witnesses, such as Biden, which would trigger demands from Democrats for high-profile Trump administration witnesses.
“I think as an American the best thing we can do is deep-six this thing,” a staunch Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, told reporters on Wednesday.
Republicans say Democrats are just trying to undo Trump’s 2016 victory via the impeachment process.
Asked why he thought Republican senators were now talking about a short trial, possibly with no witnesses, Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said: “I think the answer is obvious. They want to move on because obviously they think more attention paid to this is not in their best interest in re-election.”
CONSTITUTION AT STAKE
Democrats say Trump endangered the U.S. Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate Biden, a former vice president and a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in next year’s election.
The articles of impeachment unveiled on Tuesday do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of Trump’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers from more conservative districts had argued the focus should stay on Ukraine.
Many Democrats in those swing districts remain unsure how they will vote on impeachment, although with a 36-seat lead over Republicans in the House, passage is expected.
Trump will be on friendlier terrain in the Senate, where Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum to drive the president from office.
If the House approves the charges, a trial would be the Senate’s “first order of business in January,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
McConnell, a close Trump ally, says no decision has been made over how to conduct the trial. Approving the rules will require agreement by the majority of the Senate’s 100 members.
McConnell has said he wants lawmakers to return to their regular business at a time when Republicans will be campaigning for the 2020 election on a message of a strong U.S. economy.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Andy Sullivan, Patricia Zengerle and David Morgan; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Peter Henderson, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney