The White House said Wednesday that U.S. President Joe Biden will allow Congress to determine how to proceed with Donald Trump’s looming impeachment trial, suggesting Biden will not be taking a position on his predecessor’s future.
Speaking at her first press briefing following Biden’s inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden and his administration will be focused on securing lawmakers’ support for a proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and other priorities as he starts his term in office.
But Psaki also hinted that Biden will not ask Democratic leaders to drop the trial for the sake of healing the country.
“His view is the way to bring the country together is to address the problems we’re facing,” she told reporters.
“He’s going to leave the mechanics, the timing and the specifics on how Congress moves forward on impeachment to them.”
Trump was impeached for the second time last week on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after a violent mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 during a joint session of Congress meant to solidify Biden’s election win.
Five people died, including a Capitol Hill Police officer, and dozens have been arrested and charged.
Democrats and 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach concluded the mob was motivated by Trump’s continued insistence that the election was rigged against him and baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud, which have not been backed by any factual evidence.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial.
Psaki would not say whether Biden thinks Trump should be held accountable for inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol building early this month, pointing only to Biden’s past remarks on the “horrific events on Jan. 6.”
“He ran against Donald Trump because he did not think he was fit to serve in office, long before the events of Jan. 6,” she said.
“He’s here today because he decided to run against him, but we’re focused on moving forward, we’re focused on addressing the issues facing the American public, and as you know that means we’re focused on our COVID package.”
It’s not yet known how long that trial will run or even when it will start. The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell are continuing to hammer out how the next two years of an evenly split chamber will proceed.
Despite Democratic control thanks to Vice-President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, two-thirds of the Senate would need to vote to convict Trump, who could lose the perks of post-presidential life and be barred from holding office again.
That Senate will also need to hold hearings and votes on Biden’s Cabinet appointees, which Psaki said she hopes will move at a rapid pace. Only one administration pick, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, has been confirmed so far.
Psaki said Biden has faith in the Senate to balance all those priorities along with an impeachment trial.
“We are confident that, just as the American people can, the Senate can also multitask and they can do their Constitutional duty while continuing to conduct the business of the American people,” she said.
Biden has directly blamed Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, which he called “the culmination of (an) unrelenting attack” on democracy waged by the former president throughout his time in office.
He has not given an opinion of whether Trump should be impeached or removed from office, making clear he intends to stay separated from decisions made in Congress.
Psaki said Wednesday she hadn’t spoken to Biden about his position on FBI Director Christopher Wray and could not answer if the president has confidence in him. The FBI is leading the investigation into the rioters along with their arrests.
— With files from the Associated Press