On the eve of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate leader proposed a compressed calendar for opening statements, White House lawyers argued for a swift acquittal and the Capitol braced for the contentious proceedings to unfold. Voting the proposal will be one of the first orders of business when senators convene Tuesday.
Trump was impeached last month on charges of abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to announce an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with the House investigation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday put forth a condensed, calendar for each side to give opening statements. It would allow both House mangers — the prosecution — and White House lawyers — the defense — 24 hours each over two days to present opening arguments. That means unless either side gives up any of its time, the first four days of the trial could last 12 hours each.
The trial is scheduled to take place during the Senate’s afternoon session starting at 1 p.m. each day., so the first week of the trial could last until 1 a.m. this Wednesday – Saturday. Senators would then be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate, according to the Associated Press.
After that, then there could be a vote on allowing new witnesses. A handful of Republicans have said they want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the House investigation.
After all arguments and witnesses are heard, there will be deliberations followed by a vote on each article of impeachment. Sixty-seven of the 100 senators must vote in favor to convict.
If more witnesses are approved, the trial could go well into February. But with Senate rules requiring the trial to run six days a week, it’s conceivable that a trial with no witnesses could be finished in less than two weeks.
A speedy trial would appease Trump, based on what Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said to Fox News on Sunday. He said Trump wants the trial finished before the State Of The Union on Feb. 4.
“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” said White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.
It’s not clear if McConnell wrote the proposed rules independently or in coordination with White House counsel. He suggested last month that he would be working with Trump’s team in preparing for the trial.
“Everything I do during this, I am coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position,” McConnell told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last month, adding that there was no chance Trump would be removed from office.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the proposed rules package “a national disgrace” and a “cover-up.”
“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. He vowed to propose votes Tuesday to try to amend the rules package.
House Democrats in their initial court filing over the weekend called Trump’s conduct the “worst nightmare” of the framers of the Constitution. The White House responded, saying the charges against Trump are not impeachable offenses.
With Republicans holding the majority in the Senate and needing only 51 votes to pass, the rules are likely to be approved. Unlike normal Senate proceedings, Vice President Mike Pence will not be involved should there be a tie in the trial. In the case of a 50-50 vote, the tie will be broken by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.
That might also appease four senators who serve as jurors — Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet — because they are running for president and will be forced off the campaign trail just as the primary elections are getting underway. The Iowa caucuses will be held Feb. 3.