Because Congress is a body that loves its arcane rules and traditions, the opening act of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial began with a literal procession on Wednesday — a precedent first set during Andrew Johnson’s administration in 1868.
As part of this formality, the seven House impeachment managers solemnly formed a line to walk the articles of impeachment, effectively a sheaf of papers enclosed in two folders, over from the lower chamber to the Senate side of the Capitol.
The managers, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes, will serve as the equivalent of prosecutors in the impeachment trial, continuing to make the case that Trump should be removed from office over his attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, and over his administration’s stonewalling of Congress’s inquiry into that matter.
They will be led by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (CA); the other members are House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (NY) and five Democrats chosen for their litigation experience: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Val Demings (FL), Jason Crow (CO), Sylvia Garcia (TX), and Zoe Lofgren (CA).
Their march, two by two across the Capitol, took place following an “engrossment ceremony” for the articles, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the measures using a set of commemorative pens.
“When the managers walk down the hall, we will cross a threshold in history, delivering articles of impeachment against the president of the United States for abuse of power and obstruction of the House,” she said before the procession.
Of course, all this pomp and circumstance wasn’t just about tradition. The march of the articles also enabled House Democrats to have a made-for-TV moment as they concluded their work on the impeachment inquiry. The visuals, as lawmakers quietly strode across the Capitol’s statuary hall, underscored the seriousness of their endeavor.
Leading Wednesday’s procession were House Clerk Cheryl Johnson, who’s in charge of record-keeping for the lower chamber, and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, who heads the body’s law enforcement. Johnson announced the notice of impeachment once the group had arrived in the Senate chamber, where it was received by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate (a lawmaker who oversees Senate sessions).
This tradition marks the House officially handing over the reins for the Senate impeachment trial.
Next up: the official reading of the articles
The articles of impeachment won’t be read on the Senate floor until Thursday afternoon: As dictated by the Senate’s rules, the upper chamber has some leeway to set the time for when it wants to officially hear the impeachment managers “exhibit the articles” after it has been notified about them.
quick thread on what's next:— David Popp (@davidpopp) January 15, 2020
Under Impeachment rules, once the House formally notifies the Senate it has appointed managers, the Senate is required to set a time for the House managers to exhibit the articles. This two-step process is specified in the rules of impeachment.
Prior to their physical delivery, there had been some concern about whether the Senate would accept the articles of impeachment on Wednesday, because of the timeline it had determined. According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had suggested that the Senate rules barred the formal delivery of the articles at that time.
At one point, BuzzFeed’s Paul McLeod wondered whether the Senate’s stance could require lawmakers to comically walk back the impeachment articles after they had been physically delivered.
Instead, the symbolic march of the articles still took place, though the Senate won’t officially receive the articles until Thursday, when House members return to the chamber to present them. There will, naturally, be another procession to highlight this moment.
Senate Republicans say today they get notice and the article come tomorrow. This sets up the fun hypothetical scenario of the House procession formally bringing the impeachment articles over and the Senate sending them back.— Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod) January 15, 2020
For the article reading, a representative of the House impeachment managers, likely Schiff, will take the Senate floor around noon. At 2 pm, Chief Justice John Roberts, who will oversee the trial, will be sworn in by Grassley, and then he’ll go on to swear the hundred senators in as jurors.
Their oath, as Democrats have repeatedly emphasized, calls on lawmakers to commit to serving as impartial jurors. The trial will begin in earnest with opening statements from both the managers, and President Donald Trump’s defense counsel on Tuesday.
Many of the formalities in the impeachment trial were established by past proceedings
Andrew Johnson’s impeachment process, the first to take place in US history, has helped establish many of the rules and traditions that Congress will continue to adhere to during this trial. The Constitution, though it offers a broad outline about what an impeachment consists of, has left many of the granular details open to interpretation by the two chambers.
Since Johnson’s impeachment, just one other president — Bill Clinton — has undergone the same process, roughly 20 years ago. (President Richard Nixon resigned before he was officially impeached by the full House of Representatives.) Trump now becomes the third sitting president in US history to face an impeachment trial.
Major difference in visual here.. https://t.co/vgVzky1ByQ— Catie Edmondson (@CatieEdmondson) January 15, 2020
The march of the articles itself is a nod to the time these measures were transmitted by foot in the 1800s. As the Washington Post’s Avi Selk and Maura Judkis report, the route across the Capitol has stayed the same:
The procession followed a route first laid out on Feb. 25, 1868, one day after the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. That time the bills were delivered to the Senate by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-Pa.), who was so weak from an illness that attendants had to carry him through the Capitol in a chair.
“Every eye followed Thad Stevens as he limped down the center aisle of the crowded Senate chamber,” David O. Stewart wrote in his book “Impeached.”
Among the additional rules that have already been conveyed to lawmakers this time around: Senators will be barred from using cellphones inside the chamber, and each person will be allocated a cubby and charger while the trial is underway, Politico reports. Additionally, there could be heightened restrictions on the press, limiting reporters’ — and Americans’ — access to senators during these proceedings.
Expect more formalities yet to come.