In the face of widespread criticism from Democrats and prominent legal scholars, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing off his proposed requirement that House impeachment managers and President Trump’s lawyers each fit their opening arguments into two-day windows.
McConnell amended his organizing resolution for President Trump’s impeachment trial by giving each side three days to make their opening arguments, which can last for up to 24 hours, the same amount of time given to the prosecution and defense during the 1999 impeachment trial of President Clinton.
The resolution also allows each side to choose how many people may make those arguments.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other slammed the initial proposal for forcing House impeachment managers to make their arguments late at night when fewer people — including sleepy senators — would be paying attention.
“Sen. McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear from them,” he said in a statement Monday.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) complained Tuesday that compressing the opening arguments into such a short time frame would make it tougher to present the case against Trump.
“As a trial lawyer, I can tell you [that] you need a certain amount of time with the full attention and concentration of a jury without going into the early morning hours. Also the American people deserve to see and hear in real time,” he said.
Democrats were not the only ones pushing for a change in the rules to allow more time for opening statements.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is up for re-election this year, and other GOP moderates also pushed for some last-minute changes.
“Senator Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in two days and the admission of the House transcript in the record. Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible. She thinks these changes are a significant improvement,” said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins.
Had McConnell stuck to his more aggressive timeline, the Senate could have wrapped up the trial by the middle of next week if lawmakers voted against calling additional witnesses and documents.
Now it looks the trial may overlap with Trump’s State of the Union address scheduled for February 4.