Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial

Senate Republicans forced through a resolution establishing the rules for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE’s impeachment trial in the early morning hours Wednesday, rejecting Democrats' demands for additional witnesses and documents at the outset of the proceeding.

Senators voted 53-47 on the resolution capping off hours of debate, with Trump’s legal team and House managers engaging in a heated, public back-and-forth while senators themselves debated the measure during closed-door caucus meetings.

The final vote on passage of the rules came after Democrats tried and failed to get language added to the resolution that would have included a deal at the beginning of the trial on witnesses and documents related to the delayed Ukraine aid.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request MORE (R-Ky.) was able to hold together his caucus to table the 11 amendments offered by Democrats, effectively blocking their requests from being folded into the rules resolution.

“All of these amendments under the resolution could be dealt with at the appropriate time,” he said at multiple points of the chamber’s debate.

McConnell warned ahead of the debate that he had the votes to force through the rules, underlying the prebaked nature of the resolution on the trial process.

"The organizing resolution already has the support of the majority of the Senate. That's because it sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedent that were established unanimously," McConnell said.

The day did have some surprises such as last-minute tweaks to the rules resolution after a group of senators, including GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Toward 'Super Tuesday' — momentum, money and delegates MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDemocrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (Alaska) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to combat cyberattacks on state and local governments MORE (Ohio), raised concerns about the effort to compress the timeline for the trial.

The two changes marked a small victory for Democrats and underscored McConnell’s narrow margin for enacting the rules. The first change gives House managers and Trump’s legal team three days, as opposed to the initial two days, to make their opening arguments, and the House evidence will automatically be included in the trial record.


“God help us if we have to listen to Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop intelligence community lawyer leaving position Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE and the House Democrats prattle on for 24 hours nonstop, but you know what, I think Senate Republicans did something wise and right and say, 'OK we’ll make a concession.' So now instead of over two days it’s over three days,” Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' 'Medicare for All' will turn into health care for none Cruz 'impresses' his daughter with Chris Evans meeting MORE (R-Texas) told reporters, referring to the House Intelligence Committee chairman who is also an impeachment manager.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunSenators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals Plan to probe Bidens sparks GOP divisions The Hill's Morning Report - Trump acquitted; Romney breaks ranks on impeachment MORE (R-Ind.) told reporters that Republicans “tweaked in a way that made sense, and I think most of our conference would feel the same way.”

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters on Tuesday evening that the White House was supportive of the rules resolution and the changes made by Senate Republicans.

But Democrats still forced several votes attempting to insert a deal on calling various witnesses and compelling the White House to turn over documents tied to the delayed Ukraine aid, despite McConnell declaring ahead of the debate that he had the votes to pass the rules resolution.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' MORE (D-N.Y.) defended the string of amendment votes, arguing that they weren’t “dilatory” but focused on seeking “the truth” about the administration’s decision to delay the funding, which was eventually released in September.

“That means relevant documents. That means relevant witnesses. That’s the only way to get a fair trial. And everyone in this body knows it. Each Senate impeachment trial in our history, all 15 that were brought to completion, feature witnesses. Every single one,” Schumer said on Tuesday.

Democrats forced a handful of votes on Ukraine-related documents and communications: The first set on communications from the White House, the second on the State Department, the third on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the fourth on Pentagon documents.

They also forced votes on calling former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWe should listen to John Bolton The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Bolton decries White House 'censorship' in rare public remarks on his book MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request Scaramucci thanks John Kelly for speaking up against Trump Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' MORE, Mulvaney’s adviser Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, an OMB official. Like the motion for documents, each of the requests for a deal upfront on witnesses was tabled in a 53-47 vote.

The pledge for amendment votes had senators preparing for a long first day of the trial. Several senators were spotted at different points during the hours-long debate leaning back in their chairs; some stood during roll call votes well ahead of their names being called in an apparent attempt to stretch their legs. Others paced the back of the chamber during arguments. 

Sen. Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischLawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Dairy industry doesn't own the word 'milk' MORE (R-Idaho) at one point appeared to be asleep and was captured by a New York Times sketch artist. At other moments the Foreign Relations Committee chairman was holding up and tapping his watch as he looked to the front of the chamber at Schiff (D-Calif.). 

Senators are required to sit in their seats silently during the impeachment trial, though Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were spotted chatting, as well as Sens. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOvernight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Behind the scenes of McConnell's impeachment drama MORE (R-Neb.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senators offering bill to cement business provision in Trump tax law Sunday shows preview: Top tier 2020 Democrats make their case before New Hampshire primary Democrat gives standing ovation to Trump comments on opportunity zones MORE (R-S.C.), who were pointing at a colleague.

There were also moments of bipartisanship, with Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (R-Mo.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony US prosecutors bring new charges against China's Huawei Lawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues MORE (D-Va.) spotted together in the back of the chamber. Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Donald Trump: Unrepentant, on the attack and still playing the victim The Hill's Campaign Report: New challenges for 2020 Dems in Nevada, South Carolina MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister Lawmakers wary as US on cusp of initial deal with Taliban Democratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students MORE (D-Conn.) were also seen chatting during one of the breaks.


Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump Fed nominee stirs controversy ahead of hearing Senators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals Plan to probe Bidens sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-N.D.) characterized the Senate as being in “unchartered territory” heading into the first day of the trial, adding that he had stocked up on coffee in preparation for the lengthy debate.

“I think we’re more likely to wear each other out than we are to learn anything new,” he said.

Though the outcome of the rules fight was largely predetermined, the back-and-forth still lasted nearly 12 hours, with House managers and Trump’s legal team making arguments for and against each amendment. Under the impeachment rules, every proposed change gets up to two hours of debate evenly divided by both sides.

McConnell, more than eight hours into the debate over the rules, tried to get Schumer to agree to stack the votes — a move that would have set them up back-to-back instead of having House managers and Trump’s team debate each amendment for up to two hours.

But Schumer rejected that move, instead making a counter offer to have some of the votes on the rules resolution on Wednesday. That would go against McConnell’s pledge to finish the debate on Tuesday and pave the way for opening arguments to start on Wednesday afternoon.

At one point on Tuesday night the two leaders hit pause on the trial to see if they could find a deal but were ultimately unsuccessful. Instead, McConnell restarted the trial and Democrats rolled on with their amendment votes.


“Sen. McConnell did not agree to that,” a spokesman for Schumer said after the brief negotiation. “What this means: For the time being, arguments and votes on Sen. Schumer’s amendments will continue.” 

One of the most heated moments of the trial came later in the night when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Nadler demands answers from Barr on 'new channel' for receiving Ukraine info from Giuliani Trump predicts Ocasio-Cortez will launch primary bid against Schumer MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the impeachment managers, clashed with Trump lawyers over an amendment seeking to subpoena Bolton.

The testy exchange drew an admonishment from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

"I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are," Roberts said.

McConnell, who appeared relieved by Roberts's efforts to diffuse the tensions, thanked the chief justice.

Later, as the GOP leader moved the Senate to a vote on the rules resolution shortly before 2 a.m., he thanked Roberts again for his "patience."

"Comes with the job," Roberts responded.