Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial

The Senate is preparing to begin President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled 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 PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates 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 McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday afternoon.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BoltonThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Senate-passed defense spending bill includes clause giving DHS cyber agency subpoena power Bolton defends Cheney amid clash with House conservatives MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyFauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds MORE, or subpoena key documents.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery 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 CornynFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Chamber of Commerce endorses Ernst for reelection Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors 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 RomneyStimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock 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 MurkowskiOn The Money: Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock | Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks | Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock Overnight Energy: Official says protesters not cleared from Lafayette Square for Trump | Trump administration blasts banks refusing to fund Arctic drilling | 2019 coal production hit lowest level since 1978 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 CollinsOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 SandersGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet Progressives lost the battle for the Democratic Party's soul MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet Here are top contenders to be Biden's VP Kamala Harris to young Black women at conference: 'I want you to be ambitious' 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 ThuneFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 Biden2020 Democratic Party platform endorses Trump's NASA moon program Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency Abrams: Trump 'doing his best to undermine our confidence' in voting system 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 SchiffDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Nunes declines to answer if he received information from Ukraine lawmaker meant to damage Biden Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence 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.”