Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial
Senate Republicans forced through a resolution establishing the rules for President Trump’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 McConnell (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 Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rob Portman (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 Schiff 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 Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters, referring to the House Intelligence Committee chairman who is also an impeachment manager.
Sen. Mike Braun (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 Schumer (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 Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, 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 Risch (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 Sasse (R-Neb.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who were pointing at a colleague.
There were also moments of bipartisanship, with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) spotted together in the back of the chamber. Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) were also seen chatting during one of the breaks.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (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 Nadler (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.
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