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Senate approves Trump trial rules, lining up a series of late nights

Chamber shot down attempts by Democrats to subpoena documents and witnesses

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for the start of the impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for the start of the impeachment trial on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate voted to approve Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rules to govern the impeachment trial, which, despite last-minute changes Tuesday, earned no support from Democrats.

Senators adopted the updated resolution, 53-47, shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. The resolution will now give House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team 24 hours to make their arguments over three days, instead of the two days initially proposed by McConnell.

[Senators struggle to sit in silence at Trump trial]

Democrats complained that the original two-day timeline would have deprived the public from viewing much of the proceedings, as they would start in the afternoon and stretch past midnight.

“If Leader McConnell is so confident the president did nothing wrong, why don’t they want the case to be presented in broad daylight?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asked Tuesday.

The change means the trial days, which start at 1 p.m., will likely now conclude around 9 p.m. and could extend the trial by two days.

The tweak to the rules and scheduling is far from satisfying for Senate Democrats and House impeachment managers, who have been clamoring to hear from witnesses and to subpoena documents.

To that end, Schumer offered a series of amendments — all rejected on roll call votes, mostly along party lines — that would have instructed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to subpoena acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Adviser John Bolton and other administration officials, as well as certain White House, State Department, Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget documents pertaining to the impeachment charges.

[Impeachment comes with its own rules — or lack thereof — on standard of proof]

“We know these documents exist,” House manager Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., said of the budget documents. “And we know the only reason we do not have them is because the president directed OMB not to produce them.”

Crow argued that the documents would show that Trump, as early as June, wanted to stall the transfer of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, which would bolster the House’s case that Trump withheld those funds for his political gain.

During one of the Senate’s recesses, Schumer told reporters that Trump’s defense team had not made any arguments as to why the Senate shouldn’t be able to call witnesses or subpoena documents.

“That speaks volumes,” Schumer said.

McConnell’s underlying resolution, though, allows the Senate to revisit the question of hearing from witnesses or subpoenaing documents after the Senate hears arguments from Trump’s defense team and House managers and after the questioning period that allows senators to submit written queries for the House managers and Trump’s counsel.

A long night

After Democrats made it clear they were going to force votes on amendments to the rule resolution to ensure subpoenas for documents and witnesses, senators seemed to settle in for a long night.

At about 9:45 p.m., Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse crossed the aisle to the Republican side and sat in Kansas Republican Jerry Moran’s seat, next to Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The two exchanged jokes, patted each other on the shoulder, and continued to make each other laugh for a minute or two. Whitehouse continued his trip to the Republican side of the chamber with chats with Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ben Sasse of Nebraska before returning to his seat.

The usually stone-faced McConnell chewed some type of candy or food at about 9:50 p.m., while listening to Crow argue about the next amendment by describing how the House managers have plenty of time to debate these amendments and have the votes.

When Trump’s attorney criticized Democrats for forcing votes and debates on the same basic issue of when to vote on subpoenas at about 10:10 p.m., a smile crept across McConnell’s face that broke into a brief chuckle.

Todd Ruger contributed to this story.

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