After more than 12 hours of debate and several failed Democratic bids for amendments calling for documents and witnesses, the US Senate approved a resolution along party lines outlining the rules that will govern the impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump.
With Republicans banding together, the Senate early on Wednesday voted 53-47 to adopt the trial plan, which allows opening arguments from House lawmakers prosecuting the case to begin later in the day.
The trial started in earnest on Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two late-night sessions for each side.
Instead, managers from the House of Representatives and Trump’s defence lawyers will now each have three days for 24 hours of opening arguments.
McConnell’s handwritten, last-minute changes stunned fellow senators and delayed the start of the proceedings. He acted after protests from senators, including fellow Republicans, who were concerned about the optics of middle of the night sessions.
It was a dramatic setback for the Republican leader and the president’s legal team, exposing a crack within the party’s ranks and the political unease over the historic impeachment proceedings unfolding amid a watchful public in an election year.
Tuesday’s session marked an historic day for the deeply divided country. Trump is only the third president in the history of the United States to face an impeachment trial.
Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled open Tuesday’s session, with House prosecutors on one side, Trump’s team on the other, in the well of the Senate. Senators sat silently at their desks, under oath to do “impartial justice”. No mobile phones or other electronics were allowed.
The day swiftly took on the cadence of a trial proceeding over whether the president’s actions towards Ukraine warranted removal from office.
With all 100 senators seated at their assigned desks in the Senate chamber and the Supreme Court chief justice presiding, most senators appeared to be listening carefully with serious looks on their faces. Some took notes. There were very few smiles.
Democrats put forth 11 amendments for subpoenas for documents and witnesses. One-by-one those amendments were debated and then blocked by Senate Republicans holding the 53-47 majority.
Under the rules package passed on Wednesday, evidence from the Democratic House’s impeachment hearings will be included in the record – a Democratic demand. Opening arguments will be followed by 16 hours of questions and answers from senators before four hours of debate.