Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include last-minute changes to the Senate trial rules from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to get through Trump’s Senate trial as quickly as he can, but that plan hit a last-minute snafu.
And that unusual setback for McConnell suggests things might get more interesting than plenty of people have been expecting.
In a last-minute retreat under pressure from moderate GOP Senators, McConnell quietly agreed to allow an extra day for opening arguments for each side, backing down from a tighter schedule that would have forced Democrats to make their case against Trump until well after midnight over just two days. What’s more, evidence amassed against Trump by the House will be introduced automatically, rather than requiring a separate vote.
The unexpected changes raise a new question mark over McConnell’s ability to deliver a Senate proceeding perfectly aligned with Trump’s preferences, as McConnell has publicly pledged to do. The revisions, while modest, marked a rare defeat for a majority leader known for his vote-counting prowess.
Yet even McConnell’s revised rules break his repeated pledge to mirror the impeachment trial of former president Bill Clinton. Some important details remain crucially different, which has left Democrats furious.
“The Clinton comparison was a lie,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, shortly before McConnell revised the rules. “Leader McConnell’s process is deliberately designed to hide the truth from the Senate and from the American people, because he knows that the President’s wrongdoing is indefensible and demands removal.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other GOP moderates also objected to some of the rules during the GOP luncheons on Tuesday, almost immediately before the trial began, which pushed McConnell to pull back.
“Senator Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in 2 days and the admission of the House transcript in the record,” Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said in an email. “Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible. She thinks these changes are a significant improvement.”
Tuesday’s backpedaling showed there’s still room for surprises on the bigger issues in the trial. For example, a revolt among a handful of moderate Senate Republicans would make it easier for Democrats to call fresh witnesses who could deliver bombshell new testimony. But it still doesn’t mean the Senate will actually kick Trump out of office. Democrats only need four Republicans to change the trial rules, but about five times that many to end Trump’s presidency.
Here’s what the revised rules mean for Trump’s impeachment trial.
The rules give the same total amount of time for opening arguments as the Clinton trial: 24 hours. But now they introduce a new three-day limit per side to use their full time.
That’s more time than the original plan, which allowed just two days per side. Since opening arguments kick off after 1 p.m. Wednesday, the sessions could still easily stretch past 10 p.m., once bathroom breaks and dinner are included.
Daily trial sessions are scheduled to continue six days a week, including Saturday.