The first day of the Trump impeachment trial commenced as anticipated: in utter acrimony between the Democrats and the Republicans, primarily over the trial’s resolution introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which Democrats labeled a farce.
In his opening statement, lead impeachment manager for the Democrats, Adam Schiff, attempted to call upon the senators’ integrity and reminded them what he believed was at stake before raising the question of whether Republicans will be able to say goodbye to partisanship and welcome to a fair and balanced procedure.
Schiff’s statement came after Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, had sharply scrutinized the resolution that Mitch McConnell aspired to put to the vote on Tuesday and which entailed the rules procedures for the forthcoming weeks. It stipulated that the Democrats, as well as the defense, were only granted 24 hours for their arguments. However, the appearance of each side ought to be restricted to two days, which would have resulted in twelve hours per day.
Since the trial should in no case begin before 9 am with longer breaks to be expected, the Democrats and Schumer feared that their team would be at the lectern at night to justify the impeachment and thus absent from the public’s spotlight.
The White House’s defense council, meanwhile, repudiated these allegations in the first session yesterday. Instead, it was the Democrats who attempted to void not only the 2016 election but steal 2020 also, the lawyers argued.
Nonetheless, in an apparent concession to Democrats, the resolution introduced at the start of the trial deviated from the resolution McConnell unveiled on Monday. Changes to the resolution were written by hand into the original text, highlighting how the adjustment to the opening remarks schedule occurred at the last minute – despite McConnell’s previous claims to possess sufficient votes to pass his original resolution.
It was unclear whether he feared an early showdown that the Trump loyalists could have lost or whether the moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney beseeched McConnell into these concessions. As a result, the Democrats and the defense are now granted 24 hours over three days to conduct their arguments.
Besides the scheduling issues, the Democrats demanded various amendments to ensure, inter alia, that the Senate would summons witnesses – including Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The Democrats, moreover, attempted to enforce further requests that the Senate would subpoena numerous documents for the procedure in advance – including from the White House, the US State Department, and the Pentagon.
Republicans, however, rejected all efforts on day one.
After a 12-hour debate and just before 2 am, the GOP voted along party lines, 53 to 47, to ratify McConnell’s trial resolution and with it in favor of postponing the decision on whether to summon witnesses or subpoena documents for the trial.
Nonetheless, the fact that the moderate Republicans did not appear to be inclined to rush to early conclusions can be seen as a minor success for the Democrats, particularly after day one had impressively illustrated how far apart the Trumpian GOP and the Democrats are. The fact that, unlike during the Clinton trial in 1999, both sides could not even concur on the rules in advance is a testimony of the latter.
It remains to be seen, however, what price the Democrats are willing to pay for Mitt Romney and co. to ensure an infinitesimally more impartial trial. Romney, for one, has already affirmed he was interested in Bolton’s testimony. However, the trade-off would presumably be a subpoena for Hunter Biden. So far, the Democrats have not been inclined to make him a participant. Whether they are prepared to put their leading presidential candidate and his son in jeopardy in order to potentially obtain a smoking gun Bolton may or may not possess, remains to be seen though it is not entirely inconceivable after the first day of the Trump trial is in the books.