Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate wrangled over proposed rules as the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an opening speech on the floor, sought to defend the Constitutional integrity of the Senate as envisioned by the Founding Fathers and called on senators to put the “historical precedent ahead of the partisan passion of the day.” He also remarked that his proposed rules are fair.
McConnell also amended a resolution, released Tuesday, allowing for both sides to have 24 hours to make their case over three days instead of two—as was initially proposed. The resolution will also allow for evidence to be automatically admitted into the Senate record unless there is an objection.
The “straightforward resolution” he proposed will ensure that it is fair to all parties involved, including House Democrats and Trump’s legal team, McConnell said. If the Senate agrees to conduct an investigation and trial during the impeachment process, it would “upset the balance” of power between the House and the Senate, he continued, warning there would be “serious repercussions” regarding the separation of powers between the branches of government.
The time to consider potential witnesses is after the initial rules are set, which follows the precedent set during the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, McConnell added. The 53 members of the Republican conference have agreed to vote for his resolution, which means that he won’t have to negotiate with the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats.
“It was good enough for President Clinton … it should be good enough for this president as well,” McConnell remarked.
The vote on the trial rules could take place on Tuesday night, and the chamber can then consider the House managers’ articles of impeachment, which accuse Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and described the impeachment inquiry as a politically motivated tactic to overturn the 2016 election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that he would call to vote to amend the trial rules to obtain documents and witnesses, including White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who earlier signaled that he would be willing to testify if he’s called.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate after McConnell, Schumer reiterated the impeachment articles outlined by House Democrats and said Trump was threatening to erode basic Democratic principles by allegedly withholding $400 million in security aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden, which was the focus of a July 25 phone call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The resolution proposed by McConnell will result in a “rushed trial” that will be done in the “darkness of the light,” referring to reportedly proposed rules that would allow the trial to go into the middle of the night, said Schumer. What’s more, McConnell changed the rules that were set during the 1999 Clinton trial, according to Schumer, who argued that the “rules are not even close to the Clinton rules.”
The Senate’s organizing resolution gives the prosecution 24 hours to the defense for opening arguments within a two-day time period. Senators will have up to 16 hours for questions and there will be four hours of debate on whether to call up witnesses and documents.
Schumer on the floor said he would call for votes to allow for witnesses. “A trial without evidence is not a trial. It’s a cover-up,” he remarked.
Trump’s legal team has argued that the impeachment charges include no violations of law and have said the president was acting in the nation’s interest.