Senators ready for question time in impeachment trial

Senators are preparing to come off the sidelines of the impeachment trial as the proceeding moves to its next phase. 

After days of being spotted furiously scribbling notes from their desks on the Senate floor, senators will soon get to start asking, albeit silently, questions of both House impeachment managers and President TrumpDonald John TrumpAdvisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas Bloomberg rips Sanders over Castro comments What coronavirus teaches us for preventing the next big bio threat MORE’s defense team. 

The 16-hour period, which could start as soon as Tuesday, will give both parties a chance to poke at gaps in the other side's case. It will also lead to plenty of tea-leaf reading as observers scrutinize what the questions reveal about the senators considering the merits of the case.

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Senators have been formulating how they will ask their questions as they’ve listened to House Democrats and Trump’s legal team make their case since Wednesday. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (D-W.Va.), who has not said if he will vote to convict or acquit Trump, said he was currently working with his staff to compile questions. 

“I’m working with my staff right now [based on] things we have heard,” Manchin said. 

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who like Manchin is viewed as a swing vote, added that he would “try to pair them down.” 

“You know, there’s 100 of us [and] everybody’s got questions, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said. 

Senators filed more than 150 questions during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial, using two days to work through the pile. Only one question in that trial came from a bipartisan pair of senators: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn The new American center Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January MORE (R-Maine) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). 

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It’s unclear if there will be a bipartisan question submitted during Trump’s trial. 

Manchin opened the door to submitting a bipartisan question this week, noting that “if there was going to be a bipartisan question, I’m more than open to that.” 

“I’m happy to work with my Republican colleagues,” he added. 

Jones, however, appeared to shoot down working on questions with his colleagues. 

“No,” he said, asked about the possibility. “These are my questions ... and I consider myself pretty bipartisan.”

There are few guidelines for the question-and-answer period under an impeachment rules resolution passed last week. 

“Upon the conclusion of the president's presentation, senators may question the parties for a period of time not to exceed 16 hours,” the resolution reads — the only sentence that lays out how the questions will work. 

During the Clinton trial, questions alternated between sides with five minutes given for each answer, though managers and the president’s legal team at times extended beyond their allotted time. 

Senators in both parties say they expect the questions to be filtered through leadership, who will be responsible for condensing and weeding out repetitive questions. The questions would be sent by leadership to Chief Justice John Roberts, who would read the question, which side it is addressed to and which senators the question is from. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerImmigrants who seek opportunity should comply with longstanding American values The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge Schumer confirms spending K on cheesecake in 10 years: 'Guilty as charged' MORE (D-N.Y.) added that Democrats will be able to ask questions of both sides and signaled he’ll take a hands-off approach for how he narrows down the incoming suggestions from his caucus. 

“The only thing we might try to do is make sure that the questions — if 10 people want the same question, that we ask it once, OK, in the name of the 10,” Schumer said. 

He added that he expected there would be a “all kinds of different questions” and a “whole lot” of them. 

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Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (Ill.) told The Hill there had been “general” conversations about how the caucus will field questions and that Democrats were being asked to give them to counsel in Schumer’s office. 

On the Republican side of the aisle, GOP senators say they expect to send their requests through Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders's momentum puts Democrats on edge House Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid This week: House to vote on legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime MORE (R-Ky). 

“We’re considering a couple,” said Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: What to watch for in Nevada Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate MORE (R-N.C.), asked if he would be asking questions. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsOvernight Defense: Pentagon policy chief resigns at Trump's request | Trump wishes official 'well in his future endeavors' | Armed Services chair warns against Africa drawdown after trip GOP chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Trump pick for Fed seat takes bipartisan fire MORE (R-S.D.) added that senators have received the sheets of paper that they’ll use to submit their questions. 

“The cloakroom gathers them, and then they’ll try to put them into a semblance that if there are multiples asking the same thing they’ll come back to us and ask can we combine these into putting them together into one,” Rounds said. "But all of them will be identified as to who the questions are coming from."

The questions could provide insight into what's on the minds of a core group of potential swing-vote senators. 

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With press restrictions in place in the Capitol, reporters have had a limited opportunity to question lawmakers about what they are thinking on witnesses, the remaining wildcard in the trial or whether they will vote to convict or acquit Trump. 

“I’ve taken a lot of notes — it takes me back to law school,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Alaska) told The Hill. “Along the way I made little asterisks and notations about what I want to see, what questions I still have.” 

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPaul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney's impeachment vote Progressives hope Nevada offers roadmap for pro-union 2020 victory Texas woman sentenced for illegal voting faces deportation after parole MORE (R-Utah) predicted he would ask questions but hadn't started formulating them yet. 

“I think all senators get the chance to ask questions,” he said. “I presume I’ll have some.” 

Alexander Bolton contributed