Impeachment Trial Day 10: Senate Rejects Additional Witnesses, Vote on President Trump's Conviction or Acquittal to Occur Wednesday
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by Countable's Trump Impeachment Coverage | 1.31.20
UPDATED - 1/31/20 (6:50pm EST):
- Senators have reached an agreement on the next steps in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump after Republicans voted earlier today to block a motion to call additional witnesses.
- The Senate will resume proceedings tonight for up to four votes on Democratic amendments to the impeachment trial's organizing resolution, followed by a vote on a new resolution that outlines the next steps.
- There will be no weekend session, and the Senate will reconvene on Monday at 11 a.m. EST for a round of closing arguments by House managers and the president's counsel.
- After four hours of closing arguments Monday, the Senate will enter a non-trial session that will continue through Wednesday. The non-trial session will allow senators to give speeches on the floor weighing in on the trial and explaining their votes.
- At 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, the impeachment trial will resume for a final vote on the conviction or acquittal of President Trump.
UPDATED - 1/31/20 (5:45pm EST):
- The Senate rejected the motion to call additional witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on a vote of 49-51.
- Two moderate Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), voted no to defeat the motion along with all but two Republican senators. All Democrats voted in favor of witnesses, and they were joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT).
- The Senate is now in recess as leadership from both sides of the aisle confer with the House impeachment managers & the president's defense counsel on the next steps to conclude the trial in the coming days.
What’s the story?
- The Senate convenes Friday at 1 p.m. EST for a pivotal day in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump that could lead to its conclusion later today or on Saturday, or its continuation for the foreseeable future.
- The day will begin with up to four hours of debate between the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team. Senators may choose to undertake a period of closed door deliberations following those arguments similar to that which occurred during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, but it’s unclear whether they will do so.
- After the arguments and any deliberation period, senators will vote on a motion that ― if approved ― would open the door to calling witnesses and admitting more evidence to the record. (The House received testimony from 17 witnesses, some of which has been played as video or otherwise referenced on the Senate floor, and the 28,578 pages of evidence from the House’s investigation have already been entered into the Senate record.)
- Democrats in favor of calling witnesses need four Republicans to vote in favor of the motion to ensure its success. After Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) Thursday night announcement that he will oppose the motion, it appears that there will be only two or three GOP senators in favor. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) are in favor of additional witnesses, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) hadn’t decided whether or not she will vote in favor as of Thursday night.
What happens if there’s a 50-50 tie?
- Under the Senate’s rules, a majority is required for a motion to succeed. Ordinarily, tie votes broken by the vice president, but because U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding over the impeachment trial instead of the vice president, he could theoretically break the tie. However, he’s considered unlikely to do so.
- When Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over the Clinton impeachment trial, there were no ties to break. There is precedent for a chief justice to break consequential impeachment-related ties dating back to the first impeachment trial, although it proved controversial.
- In the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, Chief Justice Salmon Chase intervened to break two ties that lengthened the trial before it ended in an acquittal (he also declined to break a third tie). Chief Justice Chase held political ambitions at the time: he’d been a senator & governor before serving as Abraham Lincoln’s treasury secretary after unsuccessfully challenging him for the 1860 GOP presidential nomination, and his interventions in 1868 occurred in the context of his seeking the presidential nomination that year.
What happens if the motion succeeds?
- If the initial motion succeeds, that will open the door to votes on a variety of motions offered by both sides to call witnesses or admit evidence into the record.
- Those motions will also require a majority to succeed, so there’s no guarantee that 51 senators will vote to call a specific witness or witnesses, or enter evidence into the record.
- If a witness or witnesses are called, the legal teams will depose them behind closed doors in the near future and then they’ll either testify in person on the Senate floor or video of their testimony will be played for senators at a later date (a process that will be subject to motions offered by senators). That process may take a week or more, but the Senate would be able to pause the trial and attend to other business in the meantime.
What happens if the motion fails?
- If the motion to call witnesses & admit evidence only receives 49 votes, or the chief justice declines to break a 50-50 tie, the Senate may move to vote on convicting or acquitting President Trump on the two articles of impeachment as early as tonight.
- However, Democrats could then offer motions that would extend the closing arguments for both the House impeachment managers and the president’s counsel into Saturday or perhaps next week.
- Depending on the number of motions offered and whether a deal is reached, those votes may drag into late Friday night or early Saturday morning. If a deal is reached, the closing arguments will likely carry on during Saturday’s session and for a designated amount of time next week before a final vote on the articles of impeachment is held.
- Other things to keep in mind as the Senate considers when it will conclude the impeachment trial: several senators are pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination and the Iowa caucuses will be held on Monday, and President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his 2020 State of the Union Address at the Capitol on Tuesday.
- Regardless of whether the votes on convicting or acquitting President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment occurs tonight, tomorrow, or next week ― the Senate appears to lack the 67 votes required to convict the president on either article.
— Eric Revell
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