Seven things to know about the Trump trial

The impeachment battle is shifting to the Senate ahead of a weeks-long trial expected to get underway next week.

With the House voting Wednesday to transmit the articles, Chief Justice John Roberts and senators are expected to be sworn in on Thursday. A fierce rules fight and opening arguments will get started on Tuesday.

Though the outcome of the trial is pre-baked, the high-profile proceeding, the third in the chamber’s history, will put a spotlight on a handful of key potential swing votes, as well as the 2020 contenders.


Here are seven things to know.


McConnell to make it as ‘painful’ as possible

Senators are getting a list of strict rules they have to follow once the trial starts.

According to decorum guidelines circulated Wednesday, senators will not be able to bring electronic devices on the floor, speak to others while on the floor or bring reading material unless it’s related to impeachment.

They are expected to be in their seats as they listen to House managers and Trump’s team make their respective cases. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said they will not be allowed to use video evidence, something House Democrats wanted.

The Senate will also be in session six days a week, a stark difference from the chamber’s normal Monday evening to Thursday afternoon schedule.


Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said late last year that he hoped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would agree to let them work only five days a week, told The Hill that he saw no signs the GOP leader was prepared to back down from the more demanding work schedule.

Another GOP senator, asked about the possibility, told reporters recently that he assumed McConnell “will want it to be as painful as it can possibly be” to keep senators focused on getting through the trial.


Witnesses are the wildcard

The biggest unknown: Will 51 senators ultimately decide to call witnesses?

Republican senators are expected to pass a rules resolution that would punt the decision until after opening arguments and questions from senators. The resolution, according to GOP senators who have seen it, will require a vote at the end of the first phase on whether to call witnesses.

Democrats want to hear from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Mulvaney’s senior adviser Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, the associate director of national security at the Office of Management and Budget.

They’ll need four Republican senators to support their request. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has specifically said he wants to hear from Bolton and anticipates voting for him to testify.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are also viewed as potential swing votes. They said Wednesday it is too soon to determine which witnesses should testify.

“There will be this time in the process where we will have an opportunity to make a determination as to what further information we need, whether it is for Hunter Biden or Ambassador Bolton,” Murkowski said.

Conservatives are threatening to force tough votes on testimony from Biden and the whistleblower who triggered impeachment if their Republican colleagues vote to subpoena Bolton.


Democrats, Trump face off for first time

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday announced the seven Democrats who will be responsible for arguing the lower chamber’s case, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the impeachment inquiry, leading the team.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.) were also named.

Meanwhile, White House counsel Pat Cipollone will lead Trump’s defense team, with the president’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow acting as his No. 2. Whether Trump will try to add House Republicans to his team remains an open question.


Senators get to ask questions

Senators are expected to be able to submit questions through Roberts, who will read them aloud.

The Senate used two days during the 1999 Clinton trial to answer more than 150 questions submitted to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Senators in 1999 had 16 hours for questions, and lawmakers say they expect the rules for Trump’s trial to give a similar amount of time.

Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) both said they were unclear what the order would be for how their questions get asked by Roberts. The chief justice is expected to say as he asks the question which senator it originated from, setting up key moments to watch as reporters try to infer what swing votes are thinking.



Expected to go past State of the Union, Iowa caucuses

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who initially predicted the trial would be over by the State of the Union, told reporters that he now expects the proceeding will stretch beyond the scheduled Feb. 4 address.

The first phase of the trial — initial arguments and questions from senators — is expected to last roughly two weeks. After that, senators will still need to make a decision on hearing from witnesses and, eventually, vote on convicting or acquitting Trump.

The new time frame also has implications for Democratic White House hopefuls, grounding several candidates through the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.


Press crackdown expected


The Senate sergeant-at-arms and the Senate Rules Committee are preparing new press restrictions in the Capitol, sparking a backlash from reporters who warn it will interfere with their ability to cover the trial.

One restriction would require reporters to remain in press pens outside of the Senate chamber. They would not be able to leave the roped-in area to talk to senators.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) distanced himself from the proposed restrictions, calling them a “huge mistake” that “sends the wrong message.”

Most of the Senate’s deliberations are expected to be televised, though senators could go into “closed session,” where they would turn off cameras and remove reporters for a private discussion.


Trial will end in Trump acquittal

With 67 votes required to convict Trump and remove him from office, the Senate proceeding is all but guaranteed to end in his acquittal.

To convict Trump, Democrats would need 20 Republican senators, as well as their entire caucus. No Republican senator has said they view Trump’s actions as an impeachable offense.

But GOP senators also say they want to formally acquit Trump instead of dismissing the articles, even though the idea has been embraced by Trump. The rules resolution is not expected to include a built-in motion to dismiss, a break from the Clinton rules.

“There is little to no sentiment in [the] Republican conference for a motion to dismiss,” McConnell told reporters this week. “Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments.”

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