When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), with full pomp and circumstance, sent the articles of impeachment to the upper chamber, all talk turned immediately to the rules for the Senate trial. After much speculation, and presumably closed-door dealings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has finally circulated a resolution setting out his proposals.
The resolution states that each side will have 24 hours to present their arguments (spread out over two working days), at which point a vote could be held on whether witnesses are wanted. Clearly seeking a speedy trial, the Kentucky senator now has to calculate how many Senate Republicans are going to side with their Democrat colleagues.
For the resolution to pass, McConnell only requires a simple majority. Senators will have the opportunity to suggest amendments that will also be subject to 51 votes. The language of the text appears to have been finely crafted in order to appeal to GOP senators who aren’t convinced a speedy dismissal would be in the best interest of the nation.
The amount of time allotted for impeachment managers to make their case is the same as that during the Clinton trial in January 1999: 24 hours, although McConnell proposes to cram the arguments into two days, rather than spreading them over a longer duration. His argument appears to be that, in terms of hours, what was good enough for one impeachment should be good enough for another. Despite the apparent equality, however, Democrats aren’t too happy with how McConnell has proposed to run the trial.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) lashed out at the resolution, calling it “nothing short of a national disgrace.” He suggested that although the allotted time is the same as that in the Clinton impeachment trial, the arguments would take place “in the wee hours of the night.”
Did Schumer forget that the trial is not for the benefit of television networks? He appears upset the proceedings will not be as drawn out as he had hoped, and with new events superseding older ones, political point scoring will be severely limited.
In a statement, he wrote:
“Any senator that votes for the McConnell resolution will be voting to hide information and evidence.
“I will be offering amendments to address the many flaws in this deeply unfair proposal and to subpoena the witnesses and documents we have requested.”
A Failure of Logic
Quite how information or evidence would be “hidden” by holding speedy arguments is unclear. All senators will have access to the exact same information and the same amount of time to present. Unless, of course, he means that information will be hidden from the news cycle exposure that would undoubtedly accompany a long, drawn-out process.
Schumer’s concerns regarding the allowance of witnesses have also been addressed by the resolution, although perhaps not in the way he had initially hoped. After the evidence has been presented, and an additional 16 hours of questioning permitted, lawmakers will be allowed to vote on whether witnesses need to be included.
The reality here is that if Democrats fail to make a persuasive case based on the evidence they present, then further witnesses would be of little value. In a Senate where each side has largely decided which way it will vote, compelling evidence of crimes would be necessary to get Republicans on board with hearing more from possible witnesses.
If Dems can’t present such a case when they already have full party-line support, this trial may be over much faster than they, and the anti-Trump media, could ever have imagined.
Read more from Mark Angelides.