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Politics Chat: Donald Trump's Impeachment Trial Begins This Week


The U.S. Capitol Building has been the center of so much drama since this year began - a deadly insurrection, another impeachment, the socially distanced inauguration of a new president and now a Senate trial, the first of a former president. It starts on Tuesday. Joining me to discuss what we'll see this week in that chamber is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Buenos dias. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Franco, we've lived through an impeachment trial not that long ago. I mean, it's pretty fresh in my memory. But a lot has happened since then. Remind us how these things are supposed to work.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, keep in mind that this is not just a legal proceeding. It is very much a political one. It's not the kind of court - or it's not the way we think of court. Basically, the House impeachment managers function as the prosecution. You know, they make their arguments why former President Trump should be convicted of, quote, "incitement of insurrection." Now Trump's lawyers defend him. Then the senators vote. If two-thirds vote yes, then he is convicted. Right now, though, that seems unlikely, as it would require a significant number of Republicans to be in favor of conviction - at least 17 of them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Considering that, how long should this trial take?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it's not expected to take as long as Trump's last impeachment trial, which was about three weeks. You know, the issues are less complicated. The senators already know the details.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They certainly do. They were there.

ORDOÑEZ: There's only one article of impeachment this time, not two. And Democrats have an incentive to finish quickly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who are the players this time? I mean, who's going to be making the arguments? Who's defending the president? And is the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding as is - you know, as he did last time?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, under normal circumstances, John Roberts would preside. But since Trump has left office, Democrat Patrick Leahy, the Senate president pro tempore, will do so. There are nine House impeachment managers, led by Maryland's Jamie Raskin. Trump has already rejected the idea of testifying himself. Instead, he has some fresh lawyers, including Bruce Castor - he's a former district attorney in Pennsylvania - and David Schoen, who recently defended Roger Stone, obviously a Trump ally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Talk us through what arguments you expect both sides to make.

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Democrats will argue that the mob who stormed the Capitol that day did so at the behest of President Trump. You can expect a lot of video from that day. They're going to use Trump's own words against him, as well as some of his baseless claims for weeks and weeks beforehand. Trump's lawyers, meanwhile, are already arguing the whole trial is unconstitutional since he's no longer president, you know, that there's no office to remove him from. Just a note - legal scholars largely disagree. But in a trial brief, Trump's lawyers denied that Trump incited the violence and say he is protected by the First Amendment to, quote, "express his belief that the election results were suspect."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And all of this occurring in a Capitol building that's now heavily guarded.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I was actually there yesterday. It is still surrounded by a very large fence. There's barbed wire. The National Guard is there. You know, several thousand troops continue to patrol the area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And while this is going on this week, what will be on President Biden's agenda?

ORDOÑEZ: President Biden is going to be busy making - he's going to make sure not all the attention is on former president. He's got an interview today with CBS before the Super Bowl. On Monday, tomorrow, he'll visit a vaccination center. On Wednesday, he's heading to the Pentagon. On Thursday, he's going to go to the National Institute of Health (ph), where obviously Dr. Fauci works and there's a lot of vaccine development - or a lot of the vaccine development took place. So you got a little bit of counterprogramming happening. It should be interesting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Thank you very much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.