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McConnell Loosens Rules as Impeachment Trial Starts

Each side will now get 3 days to make its case, instead of 2
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2020 11:45 AM CST
Updated Jan 21, 2020 7:07 PM CST

(Newser) – The impeachment trial of President Trump has begun. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts gaveled the historic proceedings into session shortly after 1pm. First up: Senate Republicans and Democrats are haggling over the rules before opening arguments begin. Developments:

  • McConnell eases up: Mitch McConnell has loosened up on his short timeline and restrictions on evidence, reports the Hill. Each side will still get 24 hours to present its case, but that will be spread over three days, instead of two. Also, evidence will now be automatically admitted unless there's a vote in opposition to it, per CNN. The changes came after Democrats said the original proposal amounted to a cover-up, because much of the proceedings would take place late at night. GOP Sen. Susan Collins pushed for the changes, too, reports Politico.
  • SOTU: The new timeline means the trial could overlap with Trump's State of the Union address on Feb. 4, notes the Hill. It could also, theoretically, be wrapped up by the end of the month, and sources say that's the timeline McConnell has in mind—he wants to finish up in about 10 days.
  • Little chance: Democrats are expected to push for more changes in the trial rules as the day goes on, but McConnell has the votes to push through his resolution without further revision, reports Politico. As of this posting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had introduced four amendments to the rules and three have been voted down along party lines; senators broke for dinner before hearing debate on the fourth one. All of them have to do with subpoenaing documents (from the White House, State Department, Office of Budget and Management, and Mick Mulvaney). Schumer says he has a "series" of amendments to introduce. After he gets through those, the chamber will vote on McConnell's underlying resolution, so the number of amendments proposed will dictate how late the day goes.

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  • Trump weighs in: While in Davos, Switzerland, the president called the impeachment process a "total hoax," reports NBC News. "It's a witch hunt that's been going on for years and it's, frankly, it's disgraceful," the president told reporters. Later, he tweeted, "READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!"
  • His attorney: In a brief opening statement Tuesday, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said the president did nothing wrong. “We believe that once you hear those initial presentations, the only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong."
  • Silence: Senators can't bring cell phones or other electronic devices into the Senate chamber during the trial, reports CNN. Not only that, but they can't talk, period, while presentations are being made. It will "be a new experience for a lot of my colleagues (to) not be able to talk and not be able to consult our email or text messages," says GOP Sen. John Cornyn. "But we'll live through it." He adds: "It's obviously a very serious and grave matter so we should be paying attention." CNN notes there are rumors some senators may be wearing Apple watches on the floor.
  • "Remarkably like seventh grade": Later in the day, CNN noted some senators appeared "restless" while others were taking copious notes in an effort to keep busy; still later, the news organization noted senators could be seen passing notes to each other, breaking the rules by whispering to each other and sometimes even laughing, chewing gum, sharing candy, absentmindedly clicking pens to the annoyance of their colleagues, yawning, and even, in some cases, apparently nodding off briefly. It compared the atmosphere, at times, to "remarkably like seventh grade" and the senators to "bored students in a particularly long lecture."
  • No Bolton? It remains up in the air whether Democrats will be able to force witnesses to testify. But even if they can, don't expect John Bolton to appear. The former national security adviser says he would be willing to do so, but Trump's legal team and Senate Republicans are working to make sure that doesn't happen no matter what, reports the Washington Post. Trump would invoke executive privilege, and the White House might go to the federal courts to make sure Bolton complies.
(Read more Trump impeachment stories.)

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