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McConnell’s impeachment rules would condense opening arguments, limit evidence

Resolution calls for two session days of arguments from House managers, Trump lawyers

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., circulated his proposed impeachment rules resolution on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., circulated his proposed impeachment rules resolution on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday released a resolution setting time limits on the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, and is specifically seeking to limit the number of session days for opening arguments that would begin on Wednesday. 

Under text of a procedural resolution that the Senate would vote on Tuesday afternoon, the House managers would be allotted up to 24 hours over the course of up to two days, starting Wednesday afternoon, to make the case that the president should be removed from the White House.

Democrats are sure to contest this, since it would theoretically provide for two marathon sessions rather than a greater number of more reasonable work hours for the presentation of the case. A senior Republican leadership aide argued that neither the managers in the Clinton case nor the president’s team used the full time allowed.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York was quick to take issue with the resolution as drafted for not providing for the automatic admission of evidence from the House.

“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,” Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer said he would seek to offer several amendments to change the process.

“Sen. McConnell’s proposed rules depart dramatically from the Clinton precedent — in ways that are designed to prevent the Senate and the American people from learning the full truth about President Trump’s actions that warranted his impeachment,” he said. “The McConnell rules don’t even allow the simple, basic step of admitting the House record into evidence at the trial.”

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There could be several procedural votes Tuesday, with Democratic senators seeking potential guarantees on the front end for testimony from specific witnesses or the production of documents. It’s also expected that the Senate impeachment trial may go into closed session for a debate on procedural questions about document requests and other concerns.

In addition, it is in order under the underlying impeachment rules for the president’s legal team to make a motion to dismiss the articles immediately following adoption of the resolution on Tuesday.

Under the proposal from McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, the Trump legal team would have the same structured time allotted for making its case. That means it is likely that if adopted without amendment, the presentation of arguments could be completed by the end of the day on Saturday.

The resolution would make in order up to 16 hours combined for senators to ask questions of the two legal teams, which under existing rules for handling impeachments would be asked in writing through Chief Justice John Roberts.

Key votes might take place after such questioning. The resolution provides, at that point, for four hours of arguments before a potential vote on whether or not to allow any debate on issuing subpoenas to compel appearances by any witnesses, or for the production of any documents. Absent modifications, that could take place during the middle of the last week of January.

Any witnesses subject to subpoena would be deposed first before the Senate would decide whether to call them for testimony.

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