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Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules

A pair of Senate Democrats want to change the chamber’s rules for an impeachment trial to allow both sides to request that witnesses and documents be subpoenaed.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) introduced legislation on Thursday that would allow both House managers and a president’s legal team to motion to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Under the proposed rules change, if the presiding officer — the chief justice — decides the request is “material and relevant to the impeachment trial and not redundant” the subpoena would then be issued.

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Merkley argued lawmakers currently only have a “window” for both sides to agree to changes to the impeachment rules “outside the pressure of an imminent trial.”

“Whether to hear out the truth should never be a partisan question,” he added.

The rules change would lay out a substantially different process than the rules for the Trump impeachment trial, where no new witnesses or documents were called.

Under those rules, the Senate held an initial vote on whether or not to open the door for both sides to request specific witnesses. That vote failed.

If it had been successful, both House managers and Trump’s team could have made motions for specific witnesses or documents. Those would have been voted on by the Senate, where a simple majority would have been needed to successfully call a witness or compel documents.

The Merkley-Van Hollen change would still allow for a senator to try to overrule the chief justice’s decision to issue a subpoena. It would take a simple majority to overrule the chief justice.

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Van Hollen added that the Trump trial, which ended in acquittal last week, was a “disgrace.”

“To prevent this type of farce from occurring again, the Senate must change its rules to require witnesses and documents,” he added.

The legislation is one of several changes senators have suggested to how Congress handles impeachment.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said last week that he will introduce a constitutional amendment to raise the threshold for passing articles of impeachment in the House from a simple majority to three-fifths.

And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced legislation that would make House-passed articles of impeachment “deemed” as received if they had not been sent to the Senate within 25 days of passage.

It would also allow a senator to try to dismiss the articles of impeachment.

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