Democrats lost the first three rounds in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Tuesday when the Senate voted down attempts by Chuck Schumer to subpoena a cache of documents from the White House and State Department regarding the Ukraine – but warned they will grind out their efforts long into the night.
Lawmakers voted down Schumer’s amendments 53-47 on a strict party line votes for each – the same party split that divides the GOP-controlled Senate. The votes were held back to back on the first day of the president’s impeachment trial.
Schumer wanted to subpoena documents from the administration related to Trump’s communications with the president of the Ukraine and on intra-administration communication on the with holding – and later release – of U.S. military aid to the Ukraine. He also wanted White House budget documents about the withheld aid. But his colleagues voted him down – three times.
The White House refused to release such documents – including communication between the president and his top national security team – during the House impeachment investigation.
Republicans followed their lead on Tuesday as only the third impeachment trial of a president in history began, with the bitter partisan warfare potentially overshadowing the fact that President Donald John Trump is on trial accused of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress.
Trump was uncharacteristically quiet on Twitter tweeting only one to say ‘READ THE TRANSCRIPTS.’ He was 6,000 miles away in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum. He was due to break his silence Wednesday morning in interviews with CNBC’s Squawk Box and Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo.
As the procedural debate wore on into the night, Schumer introduced another effort – this time a vote on subpoenaing testimony from acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who has been identified by witnesses as a key player in the decision to withhold aid.
With several victories under his belt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told grim-faced senators the break 30 minutes for dinner – pizza – then come back to consider still more amendments on witnesses and documents.Schiff says Trump used Ukraine to help ‘cheat’ in his reelection.
The Senate Democratic Leader has vowed to keep going. And it could go late into the night. Schumer can propose an unlimited number of amendments and each one is eligible for two hours of debate – one hour for each side.
Next Schumer will push to subpoena relevant documents from the Office of Management and Budget, which did not hand them over during the House investigation upon orders from the White House.
In the end all Schumer may accomplish is running out the clock.
McConnell has made clear he has the votes among his Republican majority to shoot down any Democratic legislative maneuvers Schumer makes to try and amend McConnell’s resolution governing the rules of how the trial will proceed.
Several moderate GOP lawmakers – who Democrats had hoped to pick off to their side – said they were fine with waiting to vote on subpoenaing documents and witnesses after each side presents its opening argument, which is the same procedure used in Bill Clinton’s Senate trial.
He also made it clear he’s willing to take this into the night while offering a not so subtle reminder he will keep doing what he has been doing – move to table Schumer’s amendments and get them defeated.
‘I suggest we go ahead, get through the debate, and vote before we take a 30 minute recess for dinner, and I would remind everyone that I will be moving to table the amendment,’ the Senate Republican Leader told lawmakers.
In the longer term Democrats broadly will try to use the votes against evidence and witnesses as a line of attack against more marginal Republicans in the November Senate races.
Tuesday has been about legislative procedure. Neither side can officially make their case until the Senate approves a resolution on how the trial will proceed.
But both sides are presenting their arguments as the procedural debates take place on the Senate floor.
And the trial got off to an angry clash as Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff accused the president of engaging in a ‘corrupt’ effort to get Ukraine to help him ‘cheat’ in his reelection.
In return the presidents’ attorneys tried to put Schiff on trial, accusing him off rigging his investigation, depriving Trump of ‘due process,’ and misleading Americans by reading a mocking version of Trump’s call to Ukrainian president Zelensky.
At one point Schiff stared down Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, as Sekulow attacked him.
Sekulow ended by saying: ‘Where is the whistleblower?’ and walked away from the podim.
Schiff, a California Democrat who is heading a team of impeachment managers, made his case before 100 senators seated at their desks – telling them they must provide for a ‘fair trial’ that lets each side make its case. But his initial argument, put forward over the rules of the trial themselves, didn’t keep him from digging into the Ukraine affair that constitutes the first article of impeachment against him.