ADDS VOTE ON FIRST AMENDMENT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Senate began consideration Tuesday of the rules that will govern the trial of U.S. President Donald Trump, and his possible, if unlikely, removal from office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a set of draft rules late Monday that stoked the ire of congressional Democrats who say they are tantamount to a "cover-up." He abruptly backed off from some key components amid pushback that reportedly included some Republicans.
McConnell had sought to portray the rules as replicating those that governed the Senate trial of former President Bill Clinton, repeating his claim on the Senate floor ahead of the debate.
"This basic four-part structure aligns with the first steps of the Clinton impeachment trial," he said. "There's no reason other than base partisanship to say this particular president deserves a radically different rulebook than what was good enough for a past president of your own party."
But the package he first put forth differed in key ways.
Unlike Clinton’s trial, McConnell initially limited 24 hours of opening arguments to just two days, beginning at 1 p.m. each day. But he backed off at the last minute from the plan, which would have forced arguments to go into the early morning hours each day.
McConnell's change allows for the 24 hours of opening arguments to go into a third day, bringing arguments to conclude around 9 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast.
Clinton’s trial included 24 hours of arguments from each side spread over four days.
Evidence collected during the course of the House's impeachment investigation was also not included automatically in line with the practice established in Clinton’s trial.
McConnell's initial rules said it could only be admitted following a Senate vote, but he changed that component as well to allow for evidence to be entered into the record.
Democrats have come out strongly against the proposed ground rules, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying they "seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump."
"Contrary to what the leader has said, the McConnell rules are not at all like the Clinton rules," he later said on the Senate floor before McConnell amended the guidelines.
"The Republican leader's resolution is based neither in precedent, nor in principle. It is driven by partisanship and the politics of the moment."
Schumer promised to call for a series of votes on amendments to the rules package, but he is facing an uphill battle in the Republican-held chamber. Defections that would bring Democrats to the necessary 51 votes needed to pass the amendments seem unlikely so far.
The top Senate Democrat quickly entered his first amendment, which would have subpoenaed the White House for documents and records, but it was shot down in a 53-47 vote.
After that measure was tabled, Schumer proposed a second amendment that seeks to subpoena the State Department for documents, but it was likely to follow in the same steps as the first effort.
Trump was impeached in December by the House of Representatives on two charges: obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.
The Senate's impeachment trial began Thursday with the reading aloud of the two House of Representatives-passed charges, making Trump the third chief executive in U.S. history to face Senate proceedings.
The two articles of impeachment against Trump -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- related to his repeated effort to have Ukraine declare criminal investigations into leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter and his subsequent refusal to cooperate with the House's investigation of the matter and his directive that top officials do the same.
Neither of the previous two presidents who faced Senate trials -- Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 -- were removed from office as a result of the proceedings.