The ongoing Senate impeachment proceedings don’t directly involve defense and veterans policy work on Capitol Hill, but chamber leaders are warning that work on those issues will be disrupted somewhat by the demands of the historic trial over the next few weeks.
That includes earlier committee hearings and delays in some nomination and legislative work until early February, if not longer.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the broad outlines of the trial procedures, set to begin on Jan. 21. It’s unclear how long the trial will last, but most lawmakers are planning for at least two weeks of arguments.
Senators will be required to be present in the chamber starting at 1 p.m. until the end of proceedings for the day, effectively wiping out all other planned afternoon work for the duration of the trial.
As a result, several committee chairmen have already begun rescheduling planned hearings for earlier in the morning, in an effort to keep operations as normal as possible.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said his hope is to “fulfilling the committee's oversight and nomination responsibilities throughout the impeachment process as we are able.”
Under Senate rules, certain nominations and legislative votes cannot occur while the trial takes place. This week the committee held a confirmation hearing for James McPherson to be the next undersecretary of the Army and Charles Williams to be assistant secretary of the Navy for installations. Those nominations may have to wait several weeks to be cleared.
Similarly, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he is hoping to continue meetings with veterans advocates and discussions with fellow committee members as much as possible during the trial.
“I think we have formed up our agenda sufficiently in ways that I don’t expect significant alterations in our plans,” he said. “Our first mark-up now won’t be scheduled in the afternoon, it’ll be scheduled in the morning.
“I hope that it’s not just true of (the veterans committee), but that we all can pursue our normal work when not in session in the afternoons.”
Both Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. and ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said they don’t anticipate any real disruption for other chamber business because of the impeachment work.
One lingering piece of legislation that Democrats are hoping can be brought to the Senate floor in between trial proceedings is a new bipartisan war powers resolution authored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Four Republicans have already publicly backed that measure, which would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to take military actions against overseas adversaries without congressional approval. Kaine said he expects the vote to come up sometime during the trial period, but there is no set date yet.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said he is working to reschedule a classified briefing on Iran that the administration postponed this week, but he is optimistic that work can be done on a morning before the trial begins.
If the impeachment proceedings continue past Feb. 10, they could have a more dramatic effect on defense and veterans work. That’s because the president’s federal budget proposal is expected to be released that Monday, launching several months of federal spending hearings and debates.
One congressional staffer warned that senators’ “scarcest resource is their time” and that staff work to prepare their bosses for that budget release will suffer because of the trial.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said lawmakers have no other choice but to “wait until the trial is over and go from there.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.