As the Senate impeachment trial dragged on late Tuesday night with a series of similar Democrat-proposed subpoena requests that Republicans methodically shot down one-by-one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered Democrats an option: bundle all of their document requests into a “stack” for a single vote, so that the process could move along.
But, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was having none of it — and made clear that he wanted individual votes on each of their proposed amendments to McConnell’s rules, no matter how long it took.
“There will be a good number of votes. We are willing to do some of those votes tomorrow. There’s no reason we have to do them all tonight and inconvenience the Senate and the Chief Justice [John Roberts], but we will not back off on getting votes on all of these amendments,” Schumer said. (Roberts, who is overseeing the impeachment trial, is scheduled to attend oral arguments at the Supreme Court at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday morning.)
McConnell and Trump’s lawyers, for their part, pointed out that Democrats’ case couldn’t be as open-and-shut and “overwhelming” as they had claimed, given their apparent need for scores of additional documents and witnesses.
Nevertheless, “a number” of additional amendments were going to be offered, Schumer added. At 10:30 p.m. ET, Schumer rose to present his sixth proposal: a subpoena for the testimony of White House aides Robert Blair and Michael Duffey. Debate on that proposal was underway late Tuesday and could last for up to two hours.
The Senate handed President Trump a series of wins throughout the day Tuesday by voting 53-47 five separate times to effectively kill a series of previous proposals from Schumer to subpoena White House, State Department, Defense Department, and Office of Management and Budget documents, as well as acting White House Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney, respectively. The party-line votes demonstrated GOP unity at the start of the trial, which is all but certain to result in the president’s acquittal.
The votes were not final determinations that there would be no new witnesses or document requests. Instead, Senate Republicans have indicated they will vote for McConnell’s underlying scheduling resolution, which permits potential new witnesses and documents later in the Senate trial. However, White House lawyers have said executive privilege, a longstanding constitutional principle that protects executive branch deliberations from disclosure, precludes some administration officials from testifying.
Meanwhile, a report emerged in Politico that Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, California Rep. Adam Schiff, may have publicly mischaracterized key evidence in the case. Schiff asserted that Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas “continued to try to arrange a meeting with President [Volodymyr] Zelensky” — but the “mr Z” that Parnas was referring to in his text message was apparently not Ukraine’s president, but Ukrainian businessman Mykola Zlochevsky.
“We will not back off on getting votes on all of these amendments.”
— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y
Inside the chamber, Fox News was told to expect at least three more amendments on the Senate floor — including potentially similar amendments to subpoena officials such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton. There were signs that attention was flagging in the chamber: As of 10 p.m. ET, the galleries to watch the proceedings contained only 29 members of the public.
Eventually, once Democrats’ amendments are all defeated, the Senate is expected to vote sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning on McConnell’s underlying rules resolution in order to set the ground rules for the trial.
“It’s getting late,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said late Thursday night. “I would ask you, respectfully, if we could simply start, maybe tomorrow we can start — and they can make their argument, and they can, I guess, make a case that they once called ‘overwhelming.’ We’ll see… Seriously, can we please start?”
As Democrats’ amendments were summarily shot down, reports emerged that some Democrats were privately considering something of a compromise: calling for the testimony of Hunter Biden in exchange for the appearance of some key administration officials. Biden obtained a lucrative board role with a Ukrainian company while his father, Joe Biden, was overseeing Ukrainian policy as vice president. Trump had asked in his now-infamous July 25 call with Ukraine’s president for a look into Joe Biden’s admitted pressure campaign to have Ukraine’s top prosecutor fired.
Republicans have sought to portray Trump’s push for a probe as a legitimate request given the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine, while Democrats have alleged that senior administration officials would testify that the administration withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to secure a politically motivated probe. Mulvaney, for example, has publicly argued that there is nothing wrong with tying financial assistance to anti-corruption efforts and other U.S. objectives, even as the administration has denied specifically targeting the Bidens for political purposes.
Meanwhile, the barrage of amendments Tuesday night put into doubt whether the senators would have time to meet in a closed session to converse — which would be a valuable opportunity, given that the senators were legally barred from having any sustenance other than water or milk at their desk all day, and could not communicate verbally with one another during the proceedings.
The restriction on cellphone possession and oral interaction led some members to pass and flash written notes to each other like students in a classroom, as Democratic House impeachment managers and the president’s legal team traded lengthy legalistic arguments.
At one point during the proceedings, former Bill Clinton press secretary and CNN political analyst Joe Lockhart wrote on Twitter that Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz could go to “prison,” noting that Cruz’s Twitter account was posting tweets during the trial. Lockhart was quickly mocked by social media users pointing out that it’s common for senators’ Twitter accounts to be run by staff, and Cruz’s representatives confirmed to Fox News that Cruz had not sneaked his phone into the chamber.
Indeed, even Cruz’s couldn’t resist poking some fun at Lockhart, writing “COME AND TAKE IT,” with an image of a cellphone.
It was a moment of levity in an otherwise emotionally charged day, with Democrats accusing the president of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and Republicans calling out what they see as a transparent partisan stunt.
“It’s a partisan impeachment they’ve delivered to your doorstep in an election year,” Cipollone thundered early in the day, pointing out that Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and others, were being pulled off the campaign trail. “Some of you should be in Iowa.”
“They’re not here to steal one election, they’re here to steal two elections,” Cipollone added.
Trump attorney Patrick Philbin said Democrats’ document requests were a “stunning admission” that House prosecutors, who had full rein to conduct their own impeachment inquiry, were now essentially asking the Senate “to do their job for them.”
California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, one of the House Democrats’ impeachment managers, countered in her remarks on the Senate floor that additional documents were needed to provide “clarity.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial quickly burst into a partisan fight Tuesday as proceedings began unfolding at the Capitol. Democrats objected strongly to rules proposed by the Republican leader for compressed arguments and a speedy trial. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
“As powerful as our evidence is,” Lofgren said, “we did not receive a single document from an executive branch agency including the White House itself.”
Lofgren specifically sought, among other materials, summary notes from an Aug. 30, 2019 meeting between Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which they apparently tried to convince the president that freeing up aid money for Ukraine would be “the right thing to do.”
“It would be wrong for you senators … to be deprived of the relevant evidence,” Lofgren said.
After the 53-47 vote to table his first subpoena request for White House documents, Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a second amendment seeking a slew of State Department documents and records. McConnell, R-Ky., quickly moved to table that amendment after two hours of debate were concluded, and it was also rejected by a 53-47 vote.
Then, Schumer tried once more, this time with an amendment to seek documents from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that were related to the suspension of Ukrainian aid. That, too, failed with a 53-47 vote and was quickly followed by the debate on the Mulvaney amendment.
The votes to table the proposed amendments were not technically an up-or-down roll call on the merits of the amendments, but instead a vote to ignore them entirely.
This artist sketch depicts Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking in the Senate chamber during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)
However, McConnell abruptly backed off some of his proposed rules for the proceedings earlier Tuesday, easing plans for a tight two-day schedule and agreeing that House evidence will be included. He acted after protests from senators, including fellow Republicans who made their concerns known in private at a GOP lunch.
Without comment, the Republican leader submitted an amended proposal after meeting behind closed doors with his fellow senators as the trial opened. The handwritten changes would add an extra day for each side’s opening arguments, instead of just two days, and stipulate that evidence from the Democratic House’s impeachment hearings would be included in the record.
A spokeswoman for Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate, said that she and others had raised concerns. Collins sees the changes as significant improvements, the spokeswoman said.
Additionally, Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman and a substantial number of other Republicans from across the party’s ideological spectrum reportedly wanted to make the changes. Some argued that the two-day limitation would have helped Democrats cast Republicans as squeezing testimony through in the dead of night.
The turnaround was a swift lesson as the White House’s wishes run into the reality of the Senate.
The White House wanted a session crammed into a shorter period to both expedite the trial and shift more of the proceedings into the late-night hours, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it in public.
For his part, though, President Trump appeared undeterred by the proceedings.
“READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” the president tweeted from overseas, as he returned to his hotel far away from Washington’s impeachment drama, at a global leaders economic conference in Davos, Switzerland.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Mike Emanuel, Jason Donner, and Adam Shaw contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.