POLITICS
17/12/2019 7:46 AM AEDT

Chuck Schumer Lays Out What Democrats Want In Senate Impeachment Trial

In a new letter, the Democratic leader said he expects to hear from White House witnesses and receive documents from the Trump administration.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a letter on Sunday, laying out for the first time how Democrats would like the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump to proceed. 

“The trial must be one that not only hears all of the evidence and adjudicates the case fairly; it must also pass the fairness test with the American people. That is the great challenge for the Senate in the coming weeks,” Schumer wrote in his letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which was shared with HuffPost. 

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to send two articles of impeachment ― abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ― to the full chamber for a vote. 

If the Democratic-controlled House votes to approve those articles, it goes to the Senate for a trial in the new year. 

Schumer’s letter is the first time he has weighed in on his expectations for how the process will go. Notably, the Democratic leader wants the Senate to hear testimony from members of the Trump administration ― some of whom refused to appear before the House ― and receive documents from the White House. 

Some details from Schumer’s proposal: 

  • Pre-trial housekeeping measures would be adopted on Jan. 6; the chief justice and senators would get sworn in on Jan. 7; and House managers would begin their impeachment presentations on Jan. 9. House managers ― the representatives chosen by the House to make the case for impeachment ― would get up to 24 hours to make their case, followed by a presentation from the president’s counsel for up to 24 hours.

  • The Senate would issue subpoenas for Robert Blair, senior advisor to the acting White House chief of staff; Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff; John Bolton, former national security advisor; and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget. All refused to testify in the House hearings.

  • The House managers would also be able to call additional witnesses. 

  • The Senate would issue subpoenas for documents that “will shed additional light on the Administration’s decision-making regarding the delay in security assistance funding to Ukraine and its requests for certain investigations to be announced by the government of Ukraine.”

  • There would be up to eight hours devoted to each witness, with up to four hours for each side to question and respond to the witness. 

  • Senators would get up to 16 hours equally divided for questions to the House managers and the president’s counsel. There would then be up to six hours equally divided for each side to make final arguments.

  • Senators would get 24 hours for final deliberations, followed by votes on the articles of impeachment. 

“Leader McConnell has made it clear he plans to meet with Leader Schumer to discuss the contours of a trial soon. That timeline has not changed,” a spokesman for McConnell said. 

As of now, everything is up in the air for the Senate trial ― how long it will last, who the House managers will be, and what the White House’s cooperation will look like. And the central question of whether there will be witnesses remains.

In his letter, Schumer cites the precedent of the procedures from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, when the Senate did hear from witnesses. 

The White House has not cooperated with the House proceedings at all, believing Trump has a better chance of a defense in the GOP-controlled Senate. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to represent the president in the Senate trial. 

McConnell has tremendous power in shaping what the impeachment trial will look like. If he and Schumer can’t agree on governing rules beforehand, he has indicated that he will go it alone and come up with procedures established by a majority (likely all Republican votes). 

If that fails, McConnell could pursue a scenario in which the Senate would vote on motions as they go.

McConnell does indeed have a majority, but it’s a slim one: 53-47. In other words, he can lose only two votes if he wants to push a measure through without any Democratic support. 

Whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter in connection with the younger Biden’s work with a Ukranian energy company is at the center of the impeachment case.

Some Trump allies have said they want to call Hunter Biden as a witness, although it’s not clear there would be enough GOP votes to do so. 

This story has been updated with comment from McConnell’s office.