The impeachment of President Donald Trump began today in the Senate under the iron grip of his Republican allies, determined to contain the Democrats’ argument that the president had abused his power by putting pressure on Ukraine.
After nearly four months of investigation and negotiations, the process of Trump’s removal from office finally began in an atmosphere of tension, with the Republicans holding on to the reins of the process and the Democrats frustrated by the obstacles of the conservative majority in their attempts to shed more light on the case.
“We have begun the third impeachment trial in U.S. history,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell shortly before the formal start of the process.
A FIRST SETBACK FOR THE DEMOCRATS
If the Democrats took the lead during the investigation phase in the lower house, their loss of power became clear soon after the Senate trial began.
The process, known as “impeachment,” began with a debate over rules designed by McConnell, who initially proposed that Democratic “prosecutors” and Trump’s defense each have 24 hours divided into two days to make their case.
But pressure from some in his own party forced McConnell to change his proposal at the last minute, and to establish that those 24 hours would instead be divided into three days, to avoid the early morning sessions to which the senators were exposed.
The Republican leader announced that the Senate would approve the rules of impeachment at all costs Tuesday, which began a long debate attended, in silence, by the 100 senators who had become “jurors” in the trial against Trump.
“We need the president to stop hiding the evidence” of his pressure on Ukraine, said one of the Democratic “prosecutors”, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
The legislator was defending a request from the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, to include in the rules a subpoena for the White House to deliver dozens of documents on the relationship between Trump and Ukraine.
But Senate Republicans asserted their majority and rejected both that amendment and a second measure to access State Department papers, both by 53-47 votes.
It was the prelude to a dynamic that is likely to be repeated throughout the impeachment, a process guided by the president’s party and leading to his acquittal, unless there is an unlikely increase in public support for the “impeachment” that forces some Republican senators to change their vote.
However, the Democrats scored two small victories: McConnell’s last-minute concession to avoid early morning debates and his agreement to include the full House investigation into Ukraine’s case as evidence.
TRUMP’S DEFENSE GETS ITS TEETH INTO IT
The opening day of the impeachment trial included the premiere of Trump’s defense attorneys Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone.
“Let’s end this ridiculous charade and move on to the November presidential election,” Cipollone said.
The White House lawyer called Trump’s refusal to allow several of his advisers and former subordinates like John Bolton to testify an “act of patriotism,” an issue that promises to spark the most tense debate in the impeachment proceedings.
A TIGHT SCHEDULE
The White House does not want the process to last more than two weeks, so it is confident that it will face “an expedited trial with little evidence,” in the words of Democrat Schumer.
For now, the arguments of the Democratic “prosecutors” are expected to begin this Wednesday and last until Friday, while Trump’s defense would make its presentation from Saturday to Monday.
McConnell’s rules then provide for a 16-hour question-and-answer period, followed by a debate and vote on whether to consider further evidence and witnesses; meaning that the impeachment could end on February 1st at the earliest, although it is likely to last longer.
The impeachment is based on two charges, those of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, related to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate one of his potential rivals in the 2020 elections, former Vice President Joe Biden.
According to the Democratic opposition, Trump conditioned the delivery of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine and also the scheduling of a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski on his demand that Kiev announce that it plans to investigate Biden.