Impeachment guide: voting on trial rules


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He is a supporter. The fight for that will be heated. Democrats will try to change it and highlight its shortcomings. All Republicans will vote in favor and be blocked.

If the Senate were to be different from all the other stages of the impeachment process in terms of tone and tenor, Tuesday would certainly not be so.

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There are legislative language and amendments to follow, hundreds of pages of summaries and presentations to follow. There is party rhetoric flying from both sides. But here's what matters: what brings four senators (or more) closer to joining all 47 senators who talk to Democrats to say yes to witnesses and documents.

But every step in the next few days, especially the presentations themselves, must be viewed through this lens – it brought Republicans together or put them under even more pressure to join the Democrats at the end of the trial. Nobody expects the president to be removed from office. Period. But the trial could change the trajectory of his presidency, or at least understand what exactly happened inside his White House, depending on how Republicans decide to vote.

Or it may have no effect and be closed in the middle of next week.

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It comes down to whether four (or more) Senate Republicans choose to revert to the White House, ignore the president's Twitter feed, turn their back on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, reject their base's wishes and vote for us. Democrats. This is the ball game. It is perfectly possible that this does not happen – and if it does not, there can be good explanations. But that is the game in terms of how this judgment will be seen in history.

What to watch

  • Republicans and Senate Democrats will meet separately behind closed doors before the trial, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. ET.
  • Senate leaders are expected to comment on the Senate floor at 12:30.
  • The impeachment trial in President Donald J. Trump's Senate comes into session at 1 pm
  • The chamber will (almost) immediately proceed to consider the rules of organization of the trial.

How Tuesday will start

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After the Senate trial meets, there will be an initial maintenance measure: Senator Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, was absent last week due to a family problem and will need to be sworn in.

So McConnell will present its organizing resolution in the first stages of the trial. This will trigger a chain of events that, at various points, will be unpredictable (Democrats can, and will move to change the resolution):
  • McConnell will present his resolution.
  • The resolution will be read.
  • Upon completion of the reading, House managers and the White House defense team will have an hour to discuss their side of the resolution. Managers will argue against it. The White House team will argue in favor. One or both sides can return their time at any time.
  • After the end of two hours, changes can be offered. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, will make an amendment.
  • The change will be read.
  • Upon completion of the reading, House managers and the White House defense team will have an hour to discuss their side of the resolution. One or both sides can return their time at any time.
  • After the end of this period, the Senate will vote on the amendment.
  • The amendment process will be repeated until Schumer finishes offering amendments. At that point, the chamber would pass the vote on McConnell's underlying resolution.

Programming guide: The length of Tuesday will be dictated by the number of amendments that Schumer chooses to propose. Although his team was discreet about how many there will be, Schumer predicted a "series of amendments" to reporters on Monday night. Shorter: it can be a long day.

Important warning: If senators wish to debate any aspect, they can proceed to deliberate. This would take 51 votes and, if adopted, would require the chamber to enter a closed session. It is not clear when or if this will be used. Bottom line here is senators can only speak, except to offer a unanimous request for consent, in closed session. This is a possibility that will always be present during the trial and will certainly occur throughout Tuesday.

Will there be subpoenas for witnesses and documents?

There is simply no way to answer that question right now. Four Republican Party senators said they were open to considering witnesses and documents. In addition to Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who explicitly said he would like to hear of former national security adviser John Bolton, the other three (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee) did not say specifically who they would like to hear – only that they are open to the idea (and have worked hard to include the language). in McConnell's organizational resolution to schedule a vote to that end). Conclusion: there will probably be little movement, if any, regarding the existence of 51 votes for summonsing witnesses for days, if not more.

That said: Republican Party leaders in the Senate and the White House are keenly aware of how close the final witness vote will be, particularly with Bolton out there.

Backup plans for Bolton and other witnesses

Main reports by CNN's Pamela Brown: A senior government official and a family member confirm that the White House has been involved in discussions with Republican Party allies in recent days to ensure that they are ready in case Democrats get enough votes to allow witnesses to be called to testify.

The sources say that part of these discussions involves implications, such as concerns over executive privileges if Bolton, White House interim chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, office and management and budget officer Mike Duffey and White House adviser Rob Blair are forced to testify publicly.

To put this in plain language: even if there are votes for witnesses, the government and Republican Senate leaders are working on ways to prevent this from happening. More precisely, they are working on arguments to deploy against the idea of ​​witnesses, while senators deliberate before the witnesses' first (and potentially final) vote.

The McConnell resolution

Let's get one thing straight: the McConnell resolution is not the resolution of Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1999. There are substantial differences. It is modeled in a very similar way, and the time allowed and the opening stages of the trial are aligned with it. But it is not the same, or even "very, very similar".

What's in the resolution: These will be the rules of the road. Period. McConnell has the votes in favor. So, here's what the trial will be like.

Once adopted, the resolution would establish:

  • The opening arguments will begin on Wednesday (January 22) at 1 pm, after considering and voting on any resolution (in large part of household chores).
  • Once the arguments are initiated, the Chamber’s managers and the president’s defense team will be given 24 hours to make their opening arguments. Each side would have two days to use that time and could pay as much as they wanted or needed.
  • Then it will provide 16 hours for senators to ask questions from both sides.
  • After which there will be four hours of deliberation, then a vote on the broad search for information in the form of witnesses and documents.

This last point is fundamental: if there are 51 votes for witnesses and documents, the trial will move to a new and unknown stage that will include more votes, depositions, more votes and, afterwards, presentation of depositions or documents.

If the vote fails, that's it. The judgment proceeds to deliberations and votes on the articles themselves.

It goes without saying that this positive or negative vote is the moment of judgment.

What the resolution does not prevent: The White House defense team can offer a motion to dismiss, or senators can offer a motion to postpone at a specific point each day, almost whenever they want.

Visa: Senior officials and at least some of the Chamber's impeachment managers board the office of Mayor Nancy Pelosi on Monday night to review the resolution and apply it to her preparedness strategy.

Response from Schumer: Schumer called the resolution "a national disgrace" and the Democrats were unified in their opposition.

"After reading his resolution, it is clear that Senator McConnell is determined to make it very difficult to obtain witnesses and documents and to speed up the trial."

The challenge of early voting

The organizing resolution presented by McConnell is changeable – and Democrats plan to try to change it. How specifically (and how many amendments they propose) is kept up close, but rest assured that the Senate will vote on adding subpoenas for witnesses and documents on Tuesday – and you won't have to wait until halfway through the trial to get those votes to occur.

The reality is this: Republicans are united behind McConnell's proposal that any witness or document be treated * after * the senator's initial introductions and questions. This means that Democrats will not have votes for their amendments. But he points out that Democrats are going to start putting Republicans on the record from the start, as they lay the groundwork for the next crucial votes to come.

McConnell kept his resolution out of public reach until less than 24 hours before being considered in the Senate. A significant part of the reason is this: it has been a work in progress. Another theory, at least according to a Democratic senator, is the concern that the more the resolution is public, the more reasons Republicans can find to break their ranks. To be perfectly clear – Republicans have stayed well behind McConnell in their strategy for the early stages of the trial, and no Republican Senator I spoke to has raised concerns about staying out of the loop or unclear about what comes next.

With that in mind: If there is one thing that McConnell wants throughout this process, it is unity. He is aware that the members of his conference are in different places in certain ways. But the goal is to start unified. And stay unified as long as possible. The longer the Senate GOP gets together, the more likely they are to stay that way, essentially the case theory. That is why the resolution went through several additions, subtractions and iterations, even after McConnell announced that all 53 Senate Republicans were behind it. McConnell wants to make that promise a reality.

What Schumer wants

It is unclear how many amendments Schumer will propose on Tuesday, but a smart way to understand what lies ahead is to remember what Schumer (with the support of all Senate Democrats) insisted on:

  • Subpoenas for ex-Bolton, Mulvaney, Blair and Duffey
  • Summons documents related to the effort to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations, the holding back of a White House meeting between Trump and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the decision to maintain and eventually release the $ 400 million in aid from US security to Ukraine.

Schumer’s logic: The reasoning for pressing for the above is threefold, according to a senior Democratic aide. First, if put in order, it would make the process go more smoothly. Waiting until the end of a trial for subpoenas to be completed (if there are votes to make it happen) will almost certainly lead to delays.

Second, and Schumer has repeatedly made this argument: waiting until after the senator's opening arguments and questions to obtain witnesses and evidence for a trial would ostensibly leave those arguments and issues absent from major developments and evidence.

Third, Democrats have become increasingly uncomfortable with the language that CNN said will be added to the initial resolution calling for a top-down vote on whether to look for additional witnesses and documents. If that vote fails, it could serve as a short circuit to any future resolutions offered by Democrats to seek subpoenas for witnesses and specific documents.

It should be noted that this remains speculative – Democrats have not seen the resolution or the new language of the witnesses. But it is a concern.

A notable wrinkle: McConnell and Schumer, on Monday night, had not talked about the final text of McConnell's resolution, nor did their officials discuss details of how it would work in practice in the coming days. This is a rarity in a chamber that basically ceases to operate without majority and minority leaders making deals in the next steps, well, anything.

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