Updated at 5:07 p.m.
The first full day of the Trump impeachment trial has been dominated by partisan fighting over the rules of the proceedings.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 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 made additional changes to the trial timeline.
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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.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell called the resolution “a fair road map,” that closely tracks past precedents. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the rules “completely partisan.” He said McConnell’s resolution seems “designed by President Trump for President Trump.”
McConnell said he would move to table any Democratic amendments to the resolution.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, he did just that. He called for a vote to table, or kill, an amendment proposed by Schumer that would have subpoenaed records of communications related to White House officials, National Security Council personnel, and other Trump administration officials who have direct knowledge of “key events in question.”
The amendment was killed on a party line 53-47 vote.
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.
Will there be witnesses?
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.
House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, D-Calif., also argued against the rules resolution, while calling on the Senate to allow testimony from new witnesses. He played senators a tape of President Trump saying he would “love” to hear testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others (even though White House officials have so far been barred from testifying).
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.”
Arguing in favor of McConnell’s resolution, Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow attacked the House impeachment process and Schiff.
Referring to Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Sekulow asked, “Why are we here? Are we here because of a phone call? Or are we here, before this great body, because since the president was sworn into office there was a desire to see him removed?”
Sekulow is part of a defense team for the president led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who called the articles of impeachment “ridiculous” and said it was “an act of patriotism to defend the constitutional rights of the president, because if they do it to the president, they can do it to any of you, and they can do it to any American citizen.”
Cipollone also falsely stated that “not even Mr. Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF” during the pre-impeachment depositions. In fact, Republicans from all three of the House committees that held the depositions were allowed into the secure hearing room, and many of them did attend.
Schiff responded that he would not suggest that Cipollone “would make a false statement,” but he said Cipollone was “mistaken.”
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