Senate Impeachment Trial Begins With Fight Over Rules

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET

The first full day of the Trump impeachment trial will be dominated by partisan fighting over the rules of the proceedings.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released his resolution outlining the next steps, including a week of hours-long opening arguments, on Monday. By Tuesday, ahead of the debate, Senate leaders had made additional changes to the trial timeline.

Watch the floor action live.

The vote is a culmination of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over what would constitute a fair trial. The Democrat-led House voted in December to impeach President Trump but held off on transmitting the two articles of impeachment in an attempt to get more details on the trial rules. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ultimately moved the process forward without the assurances Democrats sought.

McConnell needs a simple majority — 51 votes — to approve his resolution that lays out how much time House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team will get to make their arguments. The Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate.

McConnell maintains he based his plan on the rules for the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, with each side getting 24 hours. In a last minute change, McConnell calls for the 24 hours to be divided over three days, rather than two as he originally proposed. That would address one Democratic complaint — that a two-day limit would force the session to last long into the night, since the trial days do not start until 1 p.m. ET.

Apparently it was not only a concern for Democrats, though.

According to a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “Senator Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in 2 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.”

McConnell also altered the rules for admitting the House evidence into the record. It is now automatically part of the record, rather than senators having to vote to include it.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell called the resolution “a fair road map,” that closely tracks past precedents. He also said he would move to table any Democratic amendments to the resolution.

But Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the rules “completely partisan.” He said McConnell’s resolution “seem designed by President Trump for President Trump.”

The resolution also delineates how much time senators will get for written questions, and it postpones the debate and vote over whether to call witnesses until after both sides make their presentations and address questions.

Democrats argue McConnell is collaborating with the White House to speed through the trial to acquit the president without all the available materials.

“It’s clear that McConnell’s rules cause the trial to be rushed with as little evidence as possible in the dark of night. They do not want the evidence to come out,” Schumer told NPR’s Morning Edition.

Schumer plans to offer a series of amendments to the McConnell resolution, but unless he can peel off four Senate Republicans to vote with Democratic caucus, those efforts will fail.

Even Senate Republicans like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who said he was open to hearing from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, said that he backed McConnell’s resolution and that “if attempts are made to vote on witnesses prior to opening arguments, I would oppose those efforts.”

The debate over the rules is expected to take up much of the day on Tuesday, and opening arguments from the House managers are not expected to start until Wednesday.

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