Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial

The Senate is preparing to begin President TrumpDonald John TrumpDefense industrial base workers belong at home during this public health crisis Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' House leaders hope to vote Friday on coronavirus stimulus 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 PelosiAn insecure America and an assertive China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA —US now leads world in known coronavirus cases | Unemployment claims soar by over 3 million | House to vote on stimulus Friday | Ventilator shortage sets off scramble 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 McConnellOn The Money: Senate unanimously passes T coronavirus stimulus package | Unemployment claims surge to 3.3 million | In three-day surge, stocks recover 20 percent of losses Senate Democrats vow to keep pushing for more funds for mail-in voting Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill 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 BoltonBolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - A huge night for Joe Biden MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyTrump to nominate Russell Vought as budget chief Warren, Brown press consumer bureau on auto lending oversight Bottom line 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Cuomo calls T stimulus 'reckless,' says it fails to meet New York's needs Government oil purchase in jeopardy without stimulus funding 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 CornynCuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic Twitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus NBA owner Mark Cuban to Senate: 'Do your f---ing job' 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 Romney7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package Scarborough rips Trump for mocking Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'Could have been a death sentence' Trump on Romney's negative coronavirus test: 'I am so happy I can barely speak' 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 MurkowskiGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet 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 CollinsSenate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump signals easing coronavirus restrictions | Tensions boil over as Senate fails to advance stimulus bill | Pelosi previews .5T House stimulus package 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 SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men HuffPost reporter: Coronavirus rescue package designed for 'super rich' Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break 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 ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill 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 BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Sanders charges forward with 2020 bid despite long odds 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 SchiffSchiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security Connecticut man accused of threatening to kill Schiff The Hill's Morning Report - Biden commits to female VP; CDC says no events of 50+ people for 8 weeks 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.”