President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga at the World Economic Forum, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Buckle up: What to watch as Trump impeachment trial takes off

The Senate trail begins Tuesday

Senators like to float above messy politics in what’s known by some as the dignified “upper chamber,” home of Congress’ cooler heads and lofty rhetoric.

But as a court of President Donald Trump’s impeachment, the Senate beginning Tuesday might seem more like the economy cabin of an oversold flight on an especially tense, mandatory work trip.

Rock star legal teams will cram the airy well of the chamber just a few feet from each other and Chief Justice John Roberts. Four television screens take up rarified space. Staff will snap up seats near the wall. A podium stands at the centre aisle.

As for phones, it’s worse than airplane mode: They are banned from the chamber. That maroons 100 chatty senators — including four Democrats in the heat of a nomination fight — for the serious constitutional business of the impeachment trial, for hours at a time.

“I’m going to be stuck in Washington for God knows how long,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told supporters in Des Moines Monday night.

What — and whom — to watch when the trial gets underway around 1 p.m. EST Tuesday:

___

GROUND RULES

But first, naturally, some talk from senators.

The Senate opens with debate on the structure and rules of the proceedings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing a condensed, two-day calendar for opening arguments on the articles passed by the House on Dec. 18. They charge Trump with abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to help him politically, and obstructing Congress when it tried to find out what happened.

McConnell’s ground rules are outlined in a four-page resolution that must be voted on as one of the first orders of business. It pushes off any votes on witnesses until later in the process, rather than up front, as Democrats had demanded. But McConnell’s plan on witnesses lines up with the organizing resolution that set the structure of President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999.

___

DRAWING THE CURTAIN

“At all times,” according to Senate rules, a majority of senators present can vote to close the proceedings and debate in private. That would mean the cameras shut off and everyone who’s not a member of the Senate kicked out of the chamber until the senators choose to reopen it.

Senators did that at various points during the Clinton trial. McConnell then argued that members of the chamber listen to each other better in private.

___

MARATHON SESSIONS

McConnell, defending his GOP majority and up for reelection himself, wants to make this trial go quickly. He’s proposed a compressed schedule with long days.

After the four days of opening arguments — maximum 24 hours per side — senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defence, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on calling other witnesses.

Senate rules say the trial must proceed six days a week — all but Sunday — until it is resolved.

There’s some question about whether it’s finished by Feb. 4, the day of Trump’s State of the Union speech. White House officials say that appointment remains, as of now. Trump can ask the House to postpone it.

But here again, there’s precedent for Trump to consider: Clinton delivered his State of the Union speech in the midst of his Senate trial. He wasn’t running for reelection, however, as Trump is.

___

OFF THE TRAIL, OFF THE GRID

Watch a coterie of Democratic senators who literally would rather be somewhere else — specifically Iowa and New Hampshire — ahead of their party’s kickoff votes for the right to try to unseat Trump in the November election.

Watch Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota for signs of fatigue from flying between Washington and these places and coping with being off the internet for hours at a time.

Also look for the surrogates, video calls to supporters and ads designed to give them a measure of presence in the early nominating states.

___

THE PROSECUTORS

They could be heard practicing speeches in the shuttered Senate chamber late into Monday night.

Leading the case for the House is Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of Californian and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York. Five other Democrats round out the prosecution team, a group House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she chose in part for their experience with the law.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has worked on three impeachment inquiries, starting with the one that helped persuade President Richard Nixon to resign. Rep. Val Demings of Florida is not a lawyer, but she is a former police chief and a member of both committees deeply familiar with the case against Trump. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is a lawyer and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, so he’s close to Pelosi’s ranks.

Pelosi also chose two freshmen who helped flip the House from GOP control in 2018. Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas is a former judge. And Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado is a retired Army Ranger who was one of the seven new members with national security backgrounds to call for Trump’s impeachment over his conduct with Ukraine.

___

FOR THE PRESIDENT

Trump cast some big personalities for seats at the defence table.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and personal lawyer Jay Sekulow are expected to lead the argument that Trump committed no crimes, that abuse of power is not an impeachable offence and that the president is a victim of a political “witch hunt” by Democrats.

Bringing experience both in constitutional law and the politics of impeachment, he’s adding retired law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated Clinton. The team also will include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general.

The team, less experienced in the Senate than the House prosecutors as a whole, visited the Senate chamber Monday, in part to test the equipment they expect to use for audio-visual presentations.

Look for signs of tension involving the president’s outside legal team and lawyers within the White House. Dershowitz on Sunday tried to distance himself from the president.

___

THE NUMBERS

100: The total number of senators.

53: The Republican majority.

51: The number of senators who must agree on almost anything to make it happen during an impeachment trial.

Four: The number of Republican senators who must join Democrats to get to the magical 51.

2/3: The proportion of senators required to convict and remove a president from office. So 67 members of the Senate would have to vote to convict if every senator is voting.

___

THE GANG

Both sides will be keeping tabs on the Senate’s moderates for an emerging gang of three to four who could influence the outcome on such matters as whether to subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton. That vote won’t be taken for days if not weeks.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has been meeting with a small number of GOP colleagues who want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the House impeachment investigation. Watch GOP Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska for signs of whether this group can stick together and force the Senate to consider additional material.

___

Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

Laurie Kellman, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Students at Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary kicked off the Everybody Deserves A Smile (EDAS) campaign in 2019. Scott Stanfield photo
Everybody Deserves a Smile campaign adapts to COVID-19 challenges

“We didn’t want to lose our heartfelt hands-on approach.”

Wind and waves were part of the reason why the Sail Canada High Performance Team selected HMCS Quadra as the winter training base for Tokyo 2021. Photo by Ken Dool
National sailing team prepares for Olympics at HMCS Quadra in Comox

HMCS Quadra is serving as the winter training base for the Canadian… Continue reading

Courtenay residents will have a substantial schedule change for curbside trash collection beginning in January 2021. (Ben Lypka/Black Press file)
Courtenay moving to a zone system for curbside trash collection

New system means collection days will change with every statutory holiday

A jubilant Ronna-Rae Leonard salutes the crowd at her victory party at the Avalanche Bar & Grill. (photo by Scott Stanfield)
UPDATE: Leonard declared early winner for Courtenay-Comox

NDP incumbent held similar margin of lead throughout the evening

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Campbell River's new hospital, July 2018
Nurse diverts opiates and falsifies records at Campbell River Hospital

Nurse facing disciplinary action for moving opiates out of the hospital

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

A heavy police presence was spotted in Lumby, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Facebook)
Police situation leads to ‘hold and secure’ at North Okanagan school

Police call for social media blackout in ongoing incident

École de l’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak forces closure of Kelowna school

The outbreak is the first within B.C.’s school system since classes resumed back in September

Most Read