POLITICS

Mitch McConnell Makes Last-Minute Concessions On Trial Rules After GOP Objections

Among other things, it's now less likely senators will be making their arguments in the middle of the night.

UPDATE: Jan. 21 — The resolution that will govern the Senate impeachment trial will give a longer period for arguments than initially suggested and automatically allow certain evidence. 

Should the resolution pass as expected, each side will be given 24 hours to present its arguments over a three-day — not two-day, as initially proposed — period. This reduces the likelihood that the Senate will be making arguments in the middle of the night. The new proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will also admit the House’s impeachment record into evidence automatically; previously, doing so would have required a vote.

The last-minute revisions are a concession to critics of the initial proposed rules, although they doesn’t address concerns over certain issues, including witnesses.

PREVIOUSLY:

WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has begun circulating proposed rules for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that would give each side just 24 hours over two days to present their arguments and wouldn’t guarantee any witness testimonies.

The resolution, which McConnell’s office sent to HuffPost on Monday, will be up for debate and a vote in the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to pass. 

Senators will be able to call for witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial but ensuring they actually testify will require at least 51 votes.

The rules, which Republicans authored on their own, mean that Democrats will need to convince at least four GOP senators to vote with them to subpoena their desired witnesses and other evidence ― a tough but not impossible task.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted McConnell for breaking from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment arguments, which were spread out over several days for each side. 

“Senator McConnell repeatedly promised Senators, the public and the press that his rules for the trial would be the same as the rules for President Clinton’s trial,” he said in a statement. “After reading his resolution, it’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through. On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

While most Republicans maintain they’ve seen enough, several moderate GOP senators have expressed openness to new witness testimony in the trial after the presentation of evidence by both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team.

“While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement last week.

Democrats wanted Republicans to agree upfront to hear from witnesses who refused to appear during House impeachment hearings, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton has offered to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed.

But nearly every Republican senator has sided with McConnell, who argued for following the framework for the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. In that proceeding, the decision on calling witnesses was postponed until after the initial arguments and senatorial questioning had been completed.

A key difference between the two cases is that in Clinton’s trial, the three witnesses who were subpoenaed had already testified prior to the start of the proceedings, as did Clinton himself. Trump has blocked key witness testimony in the House.

The two articles of impeachment passed by the House late last year center on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. They charge Trump with using the power of his office to further his political ambitions and block congressional investigations.

Given GOP control of the chamber, the Senate’s votes on the impeachment articles are widely expected to fall far short of the required two-thirds of the chamber for removal from office. 

The Senate trial ― the third involving a president in American history ―kicked off officially last week after the House sent the articles to the upper chamber. The first few days featured made-for-TV moments: the swearing-in of all senators and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the proceedings, as well as the reading of the articles.

Schumer has vowed to force votes on motions to compel new evidence and witness testimony in the trial ― part of a Democratic effort to pressure vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election in November.

“If every Republican senator votes for a rigged trial that hides the truth, the American people will see that the Republican Senate is part of a large and awful cover-up,” Schumer said last week.

This article has been updated with changes to the proposed rules for the impeachment trial.

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