The looming impeachment trial of outgoing US President Donald Trump could derail Joe Biden’s first days in power, at a time when he needs Congress to act quickly.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump for a second time this week, officially charging him with “incitement of insurrection” over his conduct in the lead-up to, and during, the Capitol riot.
Ten Republicans joined with the Democratic majority in calling for the President to be removed from office, and potentially barred from running again.
The next step is for the Senate to hold an impeachment trial, with its members taking on the role of jurors.
But that is not going to happen straight away, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, made clear immediately after the House vote.
Instead, the trial will take place after Mr Biden is sworn in as the next president.
“The House of Representatives has voted to impeach the President. The Senate process will now begin at our first regular meeting following the receipt of the article from the House,” Mr McConnell explained.
“Given the rules, procedures and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before president-elect Biden is sworn in next week.
“The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days and 21 days respectively.
“Even if the Senate process were to begin this week and move promptly, no final verdict would be reached until after President Trump had left office. This is not a decision I am making; it is a fact. The president-elect himself stated last week that his inauguration on January 20 is the ‘quickest’ path for any change in the occupant of the presidency.
“In light of this reality, I believe it will be best for our nation if Congress and the executive branch spend the next seven days completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power to the incoming Biden administration.”
The timing of the trial presents a significant problem for Mr Biden, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of getting started on his agenda immediately.
Specifically, the new president will need the Senate to confirm his appointees and pass a new coronavirus relief package.
Usually, impeachment would take precedence in the Senate, meaning the chamber would have to deal with the trial before moving on to any other business.
In a statement released after the House vote on Wednesday, Mr Biden expressed his hope that the Senate could juggle several different responsibilities at once.
“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” he said.
This is something Mr Biden had previously flagged with Mr McConnell, who will soon be replaced as majority leader by Democrat Chuck Schumer.
“My priority is to get, first and foremost, the stimulus bill passed. And secondly, begin to rebuild the economy,” Mr Biden said on Monday.
“I had a discussion today with some folks in the House, in the Senate. And the question is whether or not, for example – if the House moves forward, which they obviously are – whether or not we can bifurcate this.
“Can you go half a day on dealing with impeachment, and half a day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate, as well as moving on the package? That is my hope and expectation.”
Going back a few more days, to last Friday, the president-elect was clearly worried about the effect impeachment could have on his agenda.
As other Democratic leaders spoke about an urgent need to remove Mr Trump from office, Mr Biden was far more circumspect.
At a media conference, asked whether or not he thought impeaching Mr Trump was a “good idea”, he did not offer a direct answer.
“Look, I have thought for a long, long time that President Trump wasn’t fit to hold the job. That’s why I ran,” Mr Biden said.
“I’m focused on the urgency of three immediate concerns. One, the virus, getting it under control. Getting the vaccine from a vial into people’s arms. I think the way it’s being done now has been very, very said.
“So I’m focused on the virus, the vaccine and economic growth. What Congress decides to do is for them to decide. But I’m going to have to – and they’re going to have to – be ready to hit the ground running.
“Because when Kamala and I are sworn in, we’re going to be introducing immediately, significant pieces of legislation to deal with the virus, deal with the economy and deal with economic growth.
“So we’re going to do our job, and the Congress can decide how to proceed with theirs.”
“But if a Democratic member of Congress were to call and ask for your advice about whether they should proceed with this, what would you tell them?” a reporter pressed.
“I’ll tell them that’s a decision for the Congress to make. I’m focused on my job.”
The trial will undoubtedly make that job harder.
It takes a supermajority of 67 senators to convict a president, or in this case, a former president. That means the Democrats will need to convince at least 17 of their Republican colleagues to vote against Mr Trump.
Only one of them, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, did that when Mr Trump last faced impeachment in early 2020.
If Mr Trump is convicted this time, the Senate could take another vote to bar him from seeking public office again in the future. That would require a simple majority, meaning the Democrats would no longer need Republican support.