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Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial

The Senate is preparing to begin President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE’s impeachment trial on Tuesday, a grueling process that senators expect will be highly partisan and likely drag on past the State of the Union address in early February.

Once Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Do Democrats really want unity? MORE (D-Calif.) sends the two articles of impeachment to the upper chamber, the Senate will summon Chief Justice John Roberts to swear senators in as jurors before the end of the week.

“We’ll be able to … in all likelihood go through some preliminary steps here this week, which could well include the chief justice coming over and swearing in members of the Senate and some other kind of housekeeping measures,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kentucky Republican committee rejects resolution urging McConnell to condemn Trump impeachment Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday afternoon.

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The GOP leader said this “would set us up to begin the actual trial next Tuesday.”

The Senate will not start debating a resolution to set up time for the opening arguments of the House prosecutors and the president’s defense team until Tuesday. McConnell indicated he will not reveal the details of the organizing resolution until next week.

It is expected to give House impeachment managers up to 24 hours to argue their case and Trump’s lawyers 24 hours to respond, mirroring the resolution that was used to begin phase one of the 1999 Clinton trial.

The organizing resolution that all 53 GOP senators back, McConnell said, will be “very, very similar” to the 1999 precedent, which also gave senators 16 hours to ask questions after which the Senate considered the question of calling for additional witnesses and evidence.

The divisive question of witnesses will not be considered until after opening arguments and the senators’ question time.

At that point, a majority of senators will decide whether they will hear from senior officials who did not participate in the House inquiry, such as former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyTrump campaign had paid .7M to organizers of rally ahead of Capitol riot: report Consumer bureau director resigns after Biden's inauguration FDA chief says he was 'disgusted' by Capitol riots, considered resigning MORE, or subpoena key documents.

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McConnell said the first steps “would set up the arguments by the parties, the prosecutors and the defense, and then the written question period, and after that the more contentious issue of witnesses would be addressed.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.) has vowed to force Republicans to vote on the question of witnesses when colleagues debate the initial organizing resolution, but GOP leaders predict his motion will be tabled.

“Do Senate Republicans want to break the lengthy, historical precedent that said witnesses should be at impeachment trial, by conducting the first impeachment trial of a president in history — in history — since 1789 with no witnesses?” he said on the floor Tuesday.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to the GOP leadership, dismissed Schumer’s strategy as a political ploy ahead of this year’s elections. 

“This is about Sen. Schumer trying to force incumbent senators into tough votes on witnesses. I think that’s where the game is being played at this point,” he said.

So far, Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (Utah) is the only GOP senator who says he will likely vote to hear from Bolton and possibly other witnesses.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (R-Alaska), another swing vote, says she is “curious” to hear from Bolton but on Tuesday said she remains undecided on calling additional witnesses.

“What I want to do is listen to both sides on the opportunity to ask questions and listen to the questions that my colleagues are going to ask and hear those responses and then I want that ability to say whether or not I think I need more, and whether I need to hear more from witnesses,” she said. “Maybe John Bolton, maybe others. Maybe none. Or documentation.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (R-Maine), another prominent moderate who is up for reelection, has pushed for GOP leaders to include in the organizing resolution language setting up a debate and vote on witnesses. She, however, won’t say how she’ll vote.

Schumer said these statements indicate there’s growing GOP interest in hearing from new witnesses.

“I think there’s a whole bunch who are really seriously entertaining this,” he said, pointing to polls showing that 64 percent of Republicans are calling for additional witnesses and documents.

The president’s legal team must also be formally notified of the start of the Senate trial and given at least two days to respond, which means opening arguments may not start until later next week.

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The timeline could slide, however, depending on what Trump’s lawyers want.

Then-President Andrew Johnson was given 10 days to respond to the start of his impeachment trial in 1868, while Clinton had a week of notice. 

Given the delayed start, senators are now wondering if the trial will wrap up by the Presidents Day recess, which is scheduled to start Feb. 15.

If the prosecution, defense and senators use all their allotted time, the first phase of a trial could last six to 10 days, depending on how long senators decide to stay in session each day.

“It’s going to go longer than people think,” warned a veteran Republican senator who was in Congress during Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.

A lengthy trial would be a blow to sitting senators running for president, most notably Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report: Next steps in the Trump impeachment Sanders selling sweatshirts with his famous inauguration pose for charity MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenStudent loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden's Interior Department temporarily blocks new drilling on public lands | Group of GOP senators seeks to block Biden moves on Paris, Keystone | Judge grants preliminary approval for 0M Flint water crisis settlement Senate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee MORE (D-Mass.), since it would keep them off the campaign trail. The Iowa caucuses are Feb. 3 with the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

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Senators will be required to sit in their seats during the arguments and may not have electronic devices, which could make for some very long days as the impeachment managers and defense lawyers read through their arguments.

In a setback to the House prosecutors, video presentations will not be allowed on the Senate floor, a prospect that some Democrats feared last month when they urged Pelosi to delay the articles of impeachment in hopes of pressing McConnell to negotiate rules for the trial more to their liking.

Some senators initially expressed hope that the trial could be finished by Feb. 4, when Trump is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address, but now that timeline looks unlikely.

How long the process lasts depends on whether senators vote after opening arguments to subpoena key witnesses.

“If people decide they want to call witnesses, it could probably go on for a while,” said Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers MORE (R-S.D.), who said ending the trial by early next month is a “fairly tight deadline” that is unlikely to be met.

McConnell warned on Tuesday that if Democrats insist on hearing from Mulvaney, Bolton or other senior administration officials, Republicans will press to subpoena Hunter Biden on his Ukraine-related dealings.

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“We’ll be dealing with the witness issue at the appropriate time into the trial, and I think it’s certainly appropriate to point out that both sides would want to call witnesses that they wanted to hear from,” McConnell said Tuesday when asked about GOP colleagues who want former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE’s son to testify.

Some GOP lawmakers have also called for the anonymous whistleblower, whose complaint triggered the impeachment proceedings, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBiden to keep Wray as FBI director Biden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis Angus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information MORE (D-Calif.), who led the House inquiry, to testify at the Senate trial.

“When you get to that issue, I can’t imagine that only the witnesses that our Democratic colleagues would want to call would be called,” McConnell said.

He also made clear the Senate will not vote to immediately dismiss the articles of impeachment, as Trump demanded on Twitter over the weekend.

Trump on Sunday said that anything short of an “outright dismissal” gives “the partisan Democratic witch hunt credibility,” but McConnell said Tuesday there simply aren’t enough votes to do that.

McConnell said “there is little or no sentiment in the Republican conference for a motion to dismiss” the articles of impeachment, adding “our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments.”