At long last, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will really begin this week in the Senate.
Senators are expecting a lengthy battle over rules and procedure on Tuesday for the first real day of the trial, which could wrap up as soon as next week, depending on how senators vote on the question of subpoenaing additional evidence.
Tensions were already starting to boil Monday in anticipation of the debate after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made public an organizing resolution that will force House impeachment managers to cram up to 24 hours of opening arguments into a two-day window.
As a result, House prosecutors might have to speak until past midnight on Wednesday and Thursday if they choose to use their full time.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) panned McConnell’s resolution Monday evening as “nothing short of a national disgrace.”
Democrats will make multiple attempts to split the GOP conference by offering amendments at the start of the trial to require subpoenas of new witnesses and documents.
The Senate is set to convene at 12:30 p.m. and begin working as a court of impeachment at 1 p.m., giving senators a half hour to speak about the trial.
McConnell will introduce his resolution that will give the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team each 24 hours to make their opening arguments and require each side to limit those presentations to two days — a requirement that was not made in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.
In another departure from the Clinton resolution, House managers will not be able to enter evidence compiled from the House impeachment inquiry until after the Senate votes on subpoenaing additional documents and witnesses.
A Senate Republican leadership aide noted that the House manager and Clinton’s defense team in 1999 were each able to make their opening round of arguments in less than 12 hours.
McConnell’s resolution also provides 16 hours for senators to ask questions of the two sides by submitting queries to the presiding officer, Chief Justice John Roberts.
A second senior Senate GOP aide said it’s possible that senators will go into a closed session in a final attempt to negotiate a joint resolution in order to avoid a floor fight.
But given the lack of direct negotiation between McConnell and Schumer in recent weeks, and the unity within the Republican conference on procedure, that is by no means certain.
Democrats will attempt to amend the resolution by forcing votes to subpoena additional witnesses and documents.
“As soon as Senator McConnell offers this resolution, 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,” Schumer said Monday evening.
Democrats could try to turn the heat up on vulnerable Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.) by holding multiple votes on specific witnesses, such as former national security adviser John Bolton.
Republicans, however, are expected to stick together.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s most outspoken Republican critics, reiterated Monday that he will not vote for subpoenas until after opening arguments, giving political cover to other GOP senators.
“If attempts are made to vote on witnesses prior to opening arguments, I would oppose those efforts,” he said in a statement.
Under McConnell’s resolution, the House prosecutors will not start making their opening arguments until 1 pm Wednesday.
“I think what you’re going to have Tuesday when we take up the resolution that’s when Schumer is going to entertain us with a series of motions to do everything,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a key swing vote.
She’s predicting a “lengthy procedural day.”
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) predicts Schumer’s various motions to subpoena witnesses will be tabled by majority Republican votes.
McConnell’s organizing resolution will allow debate and vote on subpoenaing additional witnesses after the opening arguments are heard and senators have a chance to ask questions.
It will not guarantee a debate and vote on a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment without an up-or-down vote on conviction or acquittal, a provision that was included in the 1999 resolution.
It does, however, recognize the right of Trump’s defense team to make a motion to dismiss the case as soon as the organizing resolution is adopted because such a motion is allowed under the Senate’s regular impeachment rules.
GOP senators such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have already said there are not enough votes to dismiss the case before opening arguments are presented.
Senators will be under strict decorum rules and will have to sit in their seats while the procedural battle plays out. They have been informed that standing on the floor is not permitted and that these rules will be strictly enforced.
Senators also been advised to keep electronic devices off the Senate floor and to refrain from speaking to their neighbors.
Some senators are already starting to chafe at the restrictions.
“I’ve had to be silent all day under penalty of imprisonment,” quipped one GOP senator after the trial’s ceremonial opening Thursday.