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McConnell drops two-day limit on opening arguments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.), in the face of strong criticism from Democrats, is backing off his proposed requirement that House impeachment managers and President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE’s lawyers each fit their opening arguments into two-day windows.

McConnell amended his organizing resolution for Trump's impeachment trial at the last minute to give each side three days to make their opening arguments, which can last for up to 24 hours, the same amount of time given to the prosecution and defense during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Clinton.

The GOP leader made another significant amendment to his resolution by allowing the House impeachment inquiry to be entered into the Senate’s official trial record — subject to hearsay objections — something McConnell declined to greenlight in his initial proposal.

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The resolution also allows each side to choose how many people may make those arguments.

A copy of the resolution provided to the press showed the changes added in a handwritten scrawl on the printed document. McConnell had gotten pushback from some Republican colleagues on his draft during a lunch meeting held immediately before the trial started Tuesday shortly after 1 p.m.

The GOP leader changed his resolution to give prosecutors more time after moderate senators including Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden says transition outreach from Trump administration has been 'sincere' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE (R-Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Two more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (R-Maine), who is up for reelection this year, pushed for some last-minute changes.

“Senator Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in two days and the admission of the House transcript in the record. Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible. She thinks these changes are a significant improvement,” said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins.

The draft McConnell circulated Monday night would have granted both sides only two days each to make their case, meaning that if they used all of their 24 hours of allotted time, they would have been speaking on the floor until past midnight over several days. 

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His initial draft also did not allow for information gathered during the House inquiry to be formally admitted into evidence until after the Senate voted at the end of phase one of the trial to subpoena additional witnesses.

A senior Republican leadership aide argued this restriction was put in place because the president’s lawyers didn’t have a chance to cross-examine witnesses during the House hearings.

Had McConnell stuck to his more aggressive timeline, the Senate could have wrapped up the trial by the middle of next week if lawmakers voted against calling additional witnesses and documents.

Now it looks the trial may overlap with Trump’s State of the Union address scheduled for Feb. 4. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (D-N.Y.) and others slammed the initial proposal for forcing House impeachment managers to make their arguments late at night when fewer people — including sleepy senators — would be paying attention.

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“Sen. McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear from them,” he said in a statement Monday.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) complained Tuesday that compressing the opening arguments into such a short time frame would make it tougher to present the case against Trump.

“As a trial lawyer, I can tell you [that] you need a certain amount of time with the full attention and concentration of a jury without going into the early morning hours. Also the American people deserve to see and hear in real time,” he said.