Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has developed an elaborate procedural plan for an impeachment trial cover-up. Assuming that McConnell has his 53 Republicans in line to vote for the broad strokes of the cover-up and set it in motion, how will it play out?
The House will deliver its brief at noon, and debate on the procedures for the trial will begin at 1 p.m. ET. That debate will be conducted by the House impeachment managers and Donald Trump’s defense team, not by the senators, with key questions centering on McConnell’s insistence on putting off any decisions about whether to call witnesses or demand documents to the middle of the trial and on forcing the opening arguments into a ridiculously compressed schedule.
If Republican senators stay in line and pass McConnell’s plan, that would mean that, while the House managers and the Trump defense each will have 24 hours of time for arguments, they will have to complete that within two days, meaning that, with the Senate’s day starting at a leisurely 1 p.m. ET, key parts of the impeachment trial would be forced into the middle of the night.
After four marathon days of opening arguments—two for the House and two for the defense—senators would be able to question both sides, and then the big fight over witnesses and evidence is expected to begin. The question is whether four Republican senators will push back on McConnell’s cover-up plans and call for witnesses and evidence that Trump blocked the House from getting. And here McConnell has built in opportunities for himself to lose individual votes while still blocking any meaningful testimony. Senators would vote on whether to consider calling witnesses or demanding evidence at all, and only after that vote passed (if it does) would they debate and vote on specifics. So wobbly Republicans could say yes to witnesses in theory but no to any actual witnesses. And, of course, if the Senate does vote to have witnesses, Trump will do everything he can to block and delay. Because that’s what innocent people do, right?
It’s going to be a series of long, painful days in which McConnell proves again and again that party comes before country or Constitution, and most if not all Republicans will fall right in line with that, even as a majority of the country thinks Trump should be removed from office.