McConnell Reveals Parameters In Trump Impeachment Trial

Jan 21, 2020
Originally published on January 21, 2020 8:15 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, the U.S. Senate begins the third presidential impeachment trial in American history. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out his plan for how the proceedings will go, and this is what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: It's now certain that Leader McConnell is going along with President Trump's cover-up hook, line and sinker.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is with us now to talk about what we might see on this first day of the trial.

Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So before the proceedings start in earnest, senators have to approve the rules for how they are supposed to go, right? So McConnell has put out his proposal for the rules. What's in it?

SNELL: So this establishes the amount of time that each side has to make their case and kind of the rules of how evidence and witnesses would be presented, among some other kind of housekeeping things. You know, we've heard for weeks that McConnell wanted these rules to be modeled on the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, right? And, you know, this does follow some of that but not entirely. And the deviations are really important.

MARTIN: You could tell us.

SNELL: And so there are the 24 hours of argument for each side - so the House has 24 hours to make their argument, then the White House has 24 hours. But unlike in the Clinton impeachment, they have just two days each to do it. So we can do the math here, right? Twenty-four hours divided up over two days equals 12 hours of arguments every single day. And this rule also says that they would start every day at 1 p.m., so that - logically, that means that they use up all 24 hours. We're talking about arguing into the middle of the night, at least four days in a row. And you know, this is - as expected, this also tries to push the question of witnesses until after the opening arguments and questions are done, which is something that Democrats have tried to avoid and have pushed back on pretty strongly.

MARTIN: There are - is also this idea that the evidence that was uncovered in the House inquiry wouldn't be admitted, that this is something that McConnell is proposing. Can you explain that?

SNELL: Right. This had people running around all night last night, trying to figure out exactly what did that mean? And the clarification from some Republicans that I've heard is that arguments from the parties in 1999 were only limited to the presentation of what was in the House record. This rule, Republicans are saying, means that they could basically start arguing evidence as they see fit. So say the White House wanted to bring in evidence from outside the House record, they can do that. Presumably, that means the House could try to do that as well. That is one of the main questions that we're going to try to resolve today is figuring out what these rules of evidence effectively mean for how the arguments will go forward.

MARTIN: So, as we heard, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, doesn't like these - the rules as laid out by McConnell at all, but what leverage does he have to change any of this?

SNELL: Well, it's hard to say exactly what he could do to convince Republicans at this point because, as we've heard from Republicans, they feel pretty confident in the rules that McConnell has explained to them. And I've been told by many Republicans that, you know, that his - that McConnell was keeping them sort of in the loop. This rule was very much secret until just last night but that they felt very well-apprised of what his plans generally were. Schumer needs to recruit four Republicans if he wants to vote on any changes to this. And I'm told that Democrats do plan to offer amendments at the very beginning of the process, which we expect sometime later this evening. But again, they need four Republicans to come to their side, and that is a very difficult feat in a normal Senate circumstances, let alone something as difficult and heightened in a political atmosphere as we're in right now.

MARTIN: Right. So the White House and House Democrats have spent the last several days laying out their arguments for the trial on paper, lots of paper, lots of legal briefs. You have been poring through those. What has stood out to you?

SNELL: Well, I've been really interested in their argument against the second article of impeachment, the obstruction of Congress article. The White House is essentially saying that the House can't credibly call an impeachable offense because they never tried to enforce the subpoenas or ask the court to litigate the fight. The White House brief basically says that, you know, the House and White House are having a disagreement about the limits of presidential power. And it's the job of the court to step in when that happens. And according to the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution, that's the check and balance here, and the House skipped the check and balance. So that might be one of the more compelling arguments for, you know, for Democrats who might be on the fence here. Though, I'm not sure there are really anybody on the fence politically at this point.

MARTIN: Right. OK. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell running down what we will expect to see today in the first day of the Senate trial, the impeachment trial of President Trump.

Kelsey, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.