McConnell drops two-day limit on opening arguments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain Lawmakers race to pass emergency coronavirus funding Trump upends controversial surveillance fight 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 TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary 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 PortmanWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way GOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law MORE (R-Ohio) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump on US coronavirus risks: 'We're very, very ready for this' GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats Chamber looks to support Democratic allies in 2020 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer Sanders blasts Trump for picking 'completely unqualified' Pence for coronavirus response Trump passes Pence a dangerous buck Democratic mega-donor reaching out to Pelosi, Schumer in bid to stop Sanders: report 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.