The ground rules for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump have been set as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) forced votes on all resolution amendments asked for by Democrats. In what looked like the start of a long process that would delay the scheduled beginning of the actual trial, the Republican leader insisted that all amendments to his proposed rule resolution be tabled and subject to a vote.
This is a significant win for McConnell and a clear loss for Democrat impeachment managers who had hoped to make as much political hay as possible while the media sun was shining. Among testy outbreaks and glaring frustration, senators worked into the small hours of the night to keep the proceedings on schedule. But does the handling of this early stage portend a cooperative and dignified trial, or will it be more bread and circuses for a hungry news cycle?
Proposed and Disposed
During the marathon twelve-hour session, Democrats proposed eleven amendments to McConnell’s resolution outlining the rules and procedures of the upcoming trial. Most were similar in scope, demanding that documents and witnesses be agreed upon before prosecutors give their opening arguments. Each amendment was allotted two hours of debate, but as the evening wore on, several attempts were made to cut down the drawn-out process.
At one point, McConnell asked that the amendments be stacked so senators could vote and be done. However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) appeared keen to present as much of their case as possible during the amendment debate time.
The arguments given for and against the amendments were hardly ground-breaking, with the points already made during the House impeachment proceedings repeated ad nauseam.
A United GOP?
As the session began in earnest, media chatter began suggesting that McConnell was losing his grip on the Republican caucus and that splits would start appearing in the party. It’s difficult to tell if this was a purely manufactured brew designed to keep the public interest going in a process where even senators were caught with their eyes closed.
Despite the rumors, the numbers “53 to 47” were heard again and again. This apparent unity in no way means the result of the trial is a foregone conclusion. Nor even the length of it. GOP senators may well be interested in hearing from witnesses after the opening arguments have been made; this could extend the duration for a very long time. Yet, the majority party did not seem willing to hand an early win to Schiff and his team of impeachment managers by caving to their demands for a drawn-out process.
While the final result can never be entirely predictable, based upon the proceedings so far, it seems that this trial will be little more than a rehash of the House impeachment inquiry. Yet there will be one important distinction. This time, Adam Schiff will not be holding the reins and determining who can speak and on what subject. Without this powerful privilege, there may yet be a slim chance of a fair and balanced trial.
Read more from Mark Angelides.