Senate passes impeachment trial rules to punt on witnesses in early Wednesday morning vote

The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has begun. Here's what happened today that you need to know.

Posted: Jan 22, 2020 7:10 AM
Updated: Jan 22, 2020 7:10 AM

The Senate early Wednesday morning approved rules for the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on a party-line vote that delays the question of whether the Senate should subpoena witnesses and documents until later in the trial.

The rules resolution from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell was approved 53-47 after Republicans defeated a series of amendments from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on the opening day of the bitterly fought impeachment trial. Schumer proposed 11 amendments seeking to subpoena a trove of documents from the Trump administration and witnesses like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, but the amendments were thwarted almost entirely by the same party-line vote, 53-47.

LIVE UPDATES: Impeachment trial of President Trump

As the debate continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning, tempers increasingly began to flare. Chief Justice John Roberts admonished both the House managers and the President's lawyers after a particularly heated back and forth with House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow. Roberts said he was admonishing the two sides "in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body."

Schumer's amendments are part of an effort from Democrats in both the House and Senate to attack the resolution laying out the rules of the trial, which puts off a decision about seeking witnesses and documents until after opening statements are given and senators have a chance to ask questions of the House impeachment managers and the President's legal team.

"The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump. It asks the Senate to rush through as fast as possible and makes getting evidence as hard as possible," Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The McConnell resolution will result in a rushed trial with little evidence in the dark of night."

The debate over the trial rules played out after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to alter the trial resolution shortly before it gaveled in Tuesday, amid concerns from key Senate Republicans and an uproar from Democrats.

The new resolution will give the House impeachment managers and the President's team three days each to make their 24 hours of trial arguments, instead of two as McConnell had initially proposed. There were also changes to the section of the resolution that would not have admitted the House's evidence without a vote — now, evidence will be admitted automatically unless there is a motion from the President's team to throw out evidence.

But the changes did little to satisfy Democrats in either chamber, who have accused McConnell and Senate Republicans of working with the President to rush through the impeachment trial.

Democrats erupted when McConnell's four-page organizing resolution was released Monday night, dividing 24 hours over two days for opening arguments, delaying the question of witnesses until after the arguments were completed and requiring a vote for the House evidence to be submitted. Despite the changes, Democrats on Tuesday pushed for the Senate to obtain documents and witness testimony at the outset.

"If the Senate votes to deprive itself of witnesses and documents, the opening statements will be the end of the trial," House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager and a California Democrat, said during the trial debate Tuesday, "So to say, 'Let's just have the opening statements and then we'll see,' means let's have the trial, and maybe we can just sweep this all under the rug."

Two GOP aides said the changes McConnell made were the result of concerns from moderate Republicans. The alterations were hand-written into the resolution — a sign they were hastily put together before the trial began early Tuesday afternoon.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and other colleagues "raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in two days and the admission of the House transcript is the record," Annie Clark, a Collins spokeswoman, told CNN. "Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible. She thinks these changes are a significant improvement."

Collins did break with Republicans on one amendment vote, joining with Democrats on the 10th amendment to allow the sides 24 hours to respond to the trial motions that are due Wednesday morning. It failed 52-48.

The move is a sign of how closely McConnell, who cannot afford to lose more than four GOP senators to keep control of the trial, is keeping the pulse of the moderates in his conference.

Schumer's amendments sought subpoenas for a host of documents related to Ukraine, including those tied to the President's calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, discussion of investigations related to the Bidens and Burisma, and the freezing of US security assistance to Ukraine. The amendments included calls to subpoena the White House, National Security Council, State Department and OMB for documents.

But McConnell said on the Senate floor before the trial began that he has the votes from Republicans to move forward. McConnell said his proposal tracked closely with President Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial that was "fair, even-handed and tracks closely with past precedents."

Impeachment guide: Voting on the trial rules

"Here in the Senate, the President's lawyers will finally receive a level playing field with the House Democrats, and will finally be able to present the President's case," McConnell said.

Cipollone, who is leading the President's defense, said the President's team backed the resolution.

"We believe that once you hear those initial presentations, the only conclusion will be that the President has done absolutely nothing wrong," Cipollone said. "And that these articles of impeachment do not begin to approach the standard required by the Constitution."

Trump is in Davos, Switzerland, for the Davos World Economic Forum, but he still weighed in on Twitter when the trial started. "READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!" he wrote.

In an interview with CNBC while in Davos, Trump said he watched "some" of the impeachment trial and thought his team's performance during the first day of the trial was "really good." He again defended himself, saying his conversation with Zelensky was "perfect."

House managers, President's team clash

Tuesday's session was the first substantive day in the Senate trial after the House impeached Trump last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. House Democrats charge that the President abused his office by withholding US security aid and a White House meeting while pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, and then covered it up by obstructing the impeachment inquiry.

The House impeachment managers and the President's legal team included a summary of their case against the President — including playing television clips of the President's comments and snippets of the witness testimony from the House impeachment inquiry — as they detailed their case for pursuing documents and subpoenas to witnesses.

"The misconduct set out in those articles is the most serious ever charged against a president," Schiff said. "When the founders wrote the impeachment clause, they had precisely this type of conduct in mind, conduct that abuses the power of office for a personal benefit, that undermines our national security, and that invites foreign interference in the democratic process of an election."

The President's lawyers pushed back against the House, charging that the House's impeachment inquiry failed to give the President due process and the House failed to actually follow through on its subpoenas in court after the White House challenged them. The President's legal team largely focused on the process issues in the debate for more witnesses and documents.

"If I showed up in any court in this country and I said, 'Judge, my case is overwhelming, but I'm not ready to go yet. I need more evidence' ... I would get thrown out in two seconds," Cipollone said. "And that's exactly what should happen here."

The managers and the President's team each received an hour to debate each amendment, with several speaking at the lectern in the well of the Senate. Schiff and Cipollone used the time to push back on charges the other side was making, jumping in before or after the designated speaker who gave the bulk of the argument.

As the hours of debate dragged into the evening Tuesday, senators settled into their role in the trial as silent jurors, prohibited from speaking during the debates on amendments they would vote on.

Some senators took notes and listened attentively, while others slunk back in their chairs as the House managers and President's team took turns arguing the trial rules. Side conversations appeared to grow from fleeting whispers to quiet conversations, some even leading to laughs — despite the rules threatening senators with "pain of imprisonment" for speaking.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, absent-mindedly clicked his retractable pen for about a minute, before GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa turned to look at him and he stopped. Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska dug into Sasse's stash of jaw breakers, while whispering to each other and trading notes. At one point, Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana stopped in his note taking to pass a note to Sasse, who added something to it and passed it on to Scott.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said it was up to Schumer how many amendments would be offered — and how late into the night Tuesday's debate would go. But he argued it was necessary because it could be Democrats' only chance to force votes on witnesses and documents.

"We need to put Republicans on record," Murphy said. "We may not have another chance to offer amendments to get witnesses and documents before the Senate."

From 1999 to now

Since the House passed the two articles of impeachment last month, McConnell has said he would follow the precedent of Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial. McConnell has pointed to the fact that the Senate put off the question of witnesses until later in the trial, after opening arguments and the senators' period for asking questions had concluded. At that point, three witnesses were deposed, and portions of those depositions were played in the Senate chamber.

McConnell's resolution similarly puts the question of witnesses until after each side has 24 hours for their opening arguments — split over three days now, instead of two — and 16 hours of Senate questions. At that point, the Senate will vote generally on whether it should seek witnesses and documents, and then it will consider individual witnesses.

But Democrats say there are key differences. The Senate's Clinton witnesses had already testified before the grand jury, while the witnesses Democrats are now seeking — Mulvaney, Bolton, White House budget official Michael Duffey and White House aide Rob Blair — refused to testify during the House's impeachment inquiry.

Democrats have also pointed to other divergences from Clinton as a sign McConnell is trying to rush the trial. The Clinton trial still provided four days per side for opening arguments, though splitting it up over three days means it's unlikely the sessions will stretch beyond midnight as initially expected.

Schiff on Tuesday cited the documents Democrats are seeking from the Trump administration as the most important pieces of evidence to still obtain.

"If we're truly interested in fair trial, the first step ought to be the production of the documents," Schiff said. "Those will reveal precisely who the most important witnesses are."

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 514171

Reported Deaths: 10285
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34920557
DeSoto33270432
Hinds32652642
Jackson24876391
Rankin22516404
Lee16366245
Madison14932283
Jones14129247
Forrest13785260
Lauderdale12279324
Lowndes11314193
Lamar10663140
Pearl River9720244
Lafayette8855143
Hancock7839132
Washington7553169
Oktibbeha7216138
Monroe7036179
Pontotoc7003109
Warren6872178
Panola6768135
Neshoba6732210
Marshall6686142
Bolivar6451151
Union640898
Pike5933156
Alcorn5887107
Lincoln5533136
George510380
Prentiss505385
Tippah492783
Itawamba4857107
Scott478199
Adams4771125
Tate4765117
Leflore4736144
Copiah457095
Yazoo456692
Simpson4554117
Wayne443172
Covington434695
Sunflower4315106
Marion4279112
Coahoma4238109
Leake414090
Newton395782
Tishomingo384894
Grenada3777109
Stone365766
Jasper340866
Attala338790
Winston317892
Chickasaw316167
Clay312578
Clarke301295
Calhoun285949
Holmes271889
Smith269452
Yalobusha244247
Tallahatchie232053
Greene224749
Walthall221866
Lawrence219141
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster206248
Noxubee188743
Montgomery181857
Carroll174941
Jefferson Davis173843
Tunica163339
Benton153139
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134439
Humphreys132139
Franklin126029
Quitman107628
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845761

Reported Deaths: 16119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161862004
Mobile742411381
Madison53315732
Shelby38351369
Baldwin38104589
Tuscaloosa36052641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25590263
Calhoun22598518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20026518
Marshall18790316
Houston17741425
St. Clair16904358
Limestone16153219
Cullman16067303
Elmore15912294
Lauderdale14991306
Talladega14209299
DeKalb12985269
Walker12067380
Blount10729192
Autauga10526157
Jackson10170194
Coffee9425192
Colbert9341208
Dale9024192
Tallapoosa7273201
Russell708865
Chilton7042170
Escambia6956143
Covington6943195
Franklin6338108
Chambers5785142
Marion5413130
Dallas5295209
Pike5123109
Clarke484886
Lawrence4831129
Winston4780110
Geneva4643136
Bibb434594
Barbour369980
Butler3439100
Marengo342393
Monroe337466
Randolph334867
Pickens333988
Fayette330085
Henry320766
Hale318489
Cherokee318363
Crenshaw260777
Washington256952
Cleburne254560
Lamar251953
Clay251169
Macon245064
Conecuh193162
Coosa185547
Lowndes178268
Wilcox177638
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 63°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
65° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 65°
Oxford
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 59°
Starkville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 68°
Above normal temperatures will be the rule for our area over the next several days. We will stay on the dry side until this weekend.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather