Washington Wednesday – Senate debates impeachment


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 22nd of January, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday. 

Well, the impeachment trial against President Trump is under way in the U.S. Senate. And while the ultimate result is probably not in doubt, the process itself may hold a few surprises in the days ahead.

For starters, how about this one: In order to get this done, the Senate’s going to have to give up its classic three-and-a-half-day work weeks. Instead they’ll trade those in for six-day work weeks. How about that?

BASHAM: Welcome to our world!

EICHER: I know, right? We’re talking Monday through Saturday. The Senate will remain in session and take only Sundays off.

BASHAM: Now, the big order of business yesterday was to vote on the rules. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a plan that would move things along at a pretty fast pace. It’s got four parts. 

First, Democrats will make their arguments. They have 24 hours of time, spread out over as many as three days. 

Second, President Trump’s team will bring their arguments starting Friday or Saturday. Same deal: up to 24 hours of time, spread over two or three days.

Third, senators will ask questions. They’ll write them out and pass them to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is overseeing the trial. That can take up to 16 hours of floor time, and that will probably eat up another couple of days.

And fourth, the Senate will hold four hours of debate before voting on whether to admit new evidence and witnesses. If the answer is no—as McConnell wants—then a vote to convict or acquit could come around the middle of next week.

EICHER: Now, for weeks Democrats have been calling for more witnesses and evidence, so they were none too happy with McConnell’s rules resolution.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the plan a “national disgrace” that is tantamount to a “cover-up.” 

For the Republicans’ part, they say if the House case is so strong, what’s the point of new evidence and witnesses? Yesterday, McConnell insisted Republicans are doing nothing unusual: they’re simply sticking to the same approach the Senate unanimously approved two decades ago.

McCONNELL: This basic, four-part structure aligns with the first steps of the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999. Twenty-one years ago, 100 senators agreed unanimously that this roadmap was the right way to begin the trial.

Fair is fair. The process was good enough for President Clinton, and basic fairness dictates it ought to be good enough for this president as well.

BASHAM: OK, here are the names to know on each side. For Democrats—the prosecution—you have Congressman Adam Schiff leading the impeachment managers. He’s chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and that’s where the impeachment probe originated. 

He’s joined by six other House Democrats: Jerrold Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Sylvia Garcia, and Jason Crow. 

On the Republican side, the president’s defense team is led by White House counsel Pat Cillopone. Next is Jay Sekulow, one of his personal lawyers. 

He also has Ken Starr and Robert Ray. Both of them were involved in the Clinton investigation and impeachment. 

Rounding out Trump’s team is former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and three other lawyers.

EICHER: The White House also has a group of eight House lawmakers will serve on the president’s defense team. They comprise some of his most staunch defenders, including Doug Collins of Georgia and Jim Jordan of Ohio. 

Those eight House members are not likely to be as prominent as the legal team on the Senate floor. But, it’s safe to assume they will be making a lot of media appearances in the coming days.

BASHAM: And not to be left out, the senators are divided into teams, too! There are 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents. But that’s not actually what I mean. Among those 100 senators you have a faction of liberal Democrats and a few who are more moderate. 

Republicans have their own moderates, of course—led by Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney. They’ll be worth watching, especially on the question of witnesses next week. 

The GOP also has a group of outspoken Trump supporters—think Lindsey Graham—as well as institutionalists, think Mitch McConnell.

EICHER: Well, with the stage set, let’s go to Henry Olsen for some analysis. He’s a senior fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Washington Post columnist. 

Henry, good morning to you.

OLSEN: Good morning!

EICHER: Yesterday we saw the first votes, first floor debate. What was your top takeaway? 

OLSEN: This is going to be every bit as ugly and as partisan as I expected it to be. 

EICHER: OK. Let’s move to this issue of witnesses. Why was it so important to Democrats to vote on new witnesses at the start of the trial, rather than waiting. And then—conversely—for the Republicans, I understand the procedural arguments against witnesses, but why not go with witnesses and get Hunter Biden in the dock?

Lay out the thinking for us and why it matters.

OLSEN: Well, none of this matters for the conduct of the trial because everyone knows what the vote is going to be. I mean, this president is not going to be removed from office. There are not going to be 20 Republican senators and three Democratic senators that represent states that Donald Trump carried who are going to remove him from office. So, what this is all about is shaping perceptions with regards to the two parties for the 2020 election. For the Democrats, the argument is the Republicans are cheaters. The Republicans are unfair, therefore you should not trust a Republican. And for Republicans, the argument is the House has back-to-back and it’s time for us to actually begin to put some brakes on this runaway train, so let’s actually hear the arguments and then vote on a case-by-case basis. 

I will not be surprised if we don’t get witnesses on the plan that’s been proposed by a couple of Republicans, which is on a mutual reciprocity basis where each side gets a certain number of witnesses they can try to call. But at the outset, this is all about partisan gamesmanship and has nothing to do with the conduct of Trump. 

EICHER: I do wonder, though, because part of what I was trying to get at—why wouldn’t the Republicans want witnesses? Why wouldn’t they want to get Hunter Biden in there and just say, hey, that’s what this was about? 

OLSEN: Well, because I think, again, just being completely political about it, I think there’s a substantial disagreement within the Republican conference whether or not calling Hunter Biden is good for them politically. If they thought it was unqualifiedly good for them politically, I think they would compete on that. The Democrats don’t want that because, again, they don’t know what Hunter Biden could or could not say under oath. So they don’t want to take the risk that it could embarrass or damage the person that could be their nominee. It’s all about gamesmanship. 

EICHER: And we know that the vote on witnesses will only take a simple majority. Republicans don’t have a massive majority over there—53 seats. So if four of them break ranks, then, I mean, we’ve already heard that Senator Mitt Romeny wants to hear from John Bolton. Do you think there is a likelihood that something like that would happen? 

OLSEN: I don’t think it will happen on the terms that the Democrats want, which is that they get to decide what the standards of relevance are, which will effectively handcuff the president’s lawyers representing the cases they want to represent. I think there will be witnesses and I think they will be along the lines that a number of Republicans have signalled, which is each side gets to decide for themselves what relevancy means and each side may subpoena witnesses that they believe are in their interest. Now, the Democrats, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Democrats’ motion proceeds in a week along the lines that they want and they make no concessions to the Republicans, whether or not they would then vote for a Republican counter-motion that would give them the chance to call witnesses as long as the president’s lawyers have the chance to define relevancy in their own terms. That is ultimately where we’re heading in eight days and it’s a great question to know how the Democrats will vote. 

EICHER: Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of politics. This comes very, very close to the Iowa caucuses. Do you think that the impeachment trial is going to have a material effect on the Democrats running for that nomination up there? 

OLSEN: I think a lot of it depends on how the Democrats who are running choose to connect themselves. I argued in a piece for the Washington Post last week that what Democrats should be doing is turning this into a political triathlon, which is scheduling events and leaving as soon as they possibly can in order to attend late night events and make it into a reality show. We will see whether or not now that regionally in order to forestall that, Mitch McConnell has pushed through or proposed rules to require each side’s 24 hours could be offered over a period of two days, which would have meant basically marathon sessions that would keep the senators glued to their seats. Now the rules that they proposed give them three days. Well, that’s a big difference for a prospective candidate. It means that the Senate can be in session from 12 to 8 and then somebody can fly out and have an 11 o’clock vigil or they can be there at 6 o’clock and have a 6 o’clock breakfast meeting and fly back without going on two or three hours of sleep. Simply that one change opens up the possibility for the enterprising and physically fit candidates to be making daily runs out to Iowa. 

EICHER: That’s interesting. Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Henry, thanks for your analysis. We’ll check you again later after this moves along. Thank you. 

OLSEN: Thank you very much.


(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Washington Wednesday – Senate debates impeachment

  1. Sandy Wigdahl says:

    Question….do the senators get overtime pay for this trial?

    Also wouldn’t it look bad for the Climate Change Democrat senator candidates to fly back and forth to Iowa?

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