The rules package for the Senate impeachment trial have finally been unveiled and, regardless of the spin by the media, they clearly represent a win for Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump.
Specifically, the proposed rules — which still must be finalized by a majority vote following hours of debate on Tuesday — contain a condensed timeline designed to end the process as quickly as possible, delay debate and votes on additional documents and witnesses until the mid-point of the trial, and include a “kill switch” that allows the president’s defense team to motion for dismissal or an immediate verdict at any time, according to The Washington Post.
The rules and timeline of the trial
Following the initial debate and rules vote on Tuesday, opening arguments will begin on Wednesday. Both sides have been allotted 24 hours over three days to present their arguments, with House Democrats going first, followed by Trump’s defense team. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) initially proposed cramming the 24 hours into just two days but revised the time frame following complaints about the potential for 12-hour days and late nights.
Nevertheless, the days will still be long. The condensed timeframe makes it possible that the whole trial could be concluded prior to President Trump’s scheduled State of the Union address on Feb. 4, though there are no guarantees.
After both sides have presented their respective cases for and against impeachment, there will be a 16 hour period — likely split over two days — during which all senators may submit written questions which will be read aloud by Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.
It is only after all of the opening statements and presentation of cases and senators’ questions have been concluded that the Senate will allow time for debate and votes over whether to issue subpoenas for additional documents and witness testimony — something Democrats demanded to address up front but was ignored by McConnell.
Once that matter has been properly addressed — and that promises to feature intense debate and could add substantial time to the whole process if witnesses are called — there will be closing arguments from both sides, deliberations among the senators, and a final vote to acquit or convict for each article of impeachment.
“Kill switch” included for Trump’s team
One significant win for the president in these rules is the provision of what has been termed a “kill switch.” The provision allows for the proposal of a motion at any point in the trial for immediate dismissal or an immediate vote for acquittal or conviction. This was likely included as a fail-safe if the proceedings get out of control.
Politico reported that McConnell only made two fairly minor concessions on his proposed rules package following criticism from Democrats and a couple of Republicans, namely the extension of three days instead of just two for the presentation of cases as well as an agreement to automatically accept all of the House’s evidence rather than an initial provision that each piece of evidence would be voted on before being accepted.
The concessions were ignored by Democrats as they continued to accuse McConnell of not conducting a fair trial — a laughable assertion, considering the decidedly unfair process seen in the House-controlled impeachment inquiry.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) summed up the Democrat critiques rather succinctly: “My response is that no matter what was in the resolution, I was confident the Democrats would be critical of it,” he said. “That’s part of the role they decided to play here.”
Ideally, every aspect of the trial should be conducted in as fair and transparent a manner as possible, if only to reduce the basis upon which Democrats will inevitably complain, and this partisan affair must be wrapped up in a timely fashion so President Trump, who will almost certainly be acquitted, and the Senate can get back to work.