WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday abruptly backed down from his effort to restrict Senate impeachment trial arguments to two days for each side, instead allowing them to be presented over three days.
The change was announced Tuesday afternoon as the clerk of the Senate read the resolution aloud at the start of a debate over whether witnesses and documents would be subpoenaed. A copy of the resolution released Monday evening said the arguments would be presented in 24 hours over two days for each side.
The change was made following a discussion at a closed-door GOP lunch Tuesday, according to an aide to McConnell, R-Ky. Some Republicans raised concerns about the original timeline. With a narrow 53-seat majority in the Senate, McConnell has little wiggle room to keep his caucus united, and he has boasted that he has the GOP votes to pass the rules package without any Democratic support.
“Sen. Collins and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in two days and the admission of the House transcript in the record,” according to Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible. She thinks these changes are a significant improvement.”
McConnell has said repeatedly that his trial plan was based on the one used during the Clinton impeachment, which included 24 hours over three days for each side as well as admission of the House records.
Democrats have also blasted the idea of holding 12 hours of opening arguments daily spread over four days, arguing that McConnell was trying to ensure portions of the trial were conducted in the dark of night and completed as quickly as possible.
It also would have meant extraordinarily long sessions for senators that might not have ended until 3 a.m., after including breaks and meals.
Some Republicans appeared ready to support the resolution despite the long days, with none publicly announcing they would reject the earlier timetable.
An hour before the change was read on the Senate floor, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, viewed as perhaps the Republican most likely to support the call for witnesses, defended the resolution. “We’re going to listen to it whether we hear it in 12-hour blocks or eight-hour blocks,” he told reporters.
The new timeline would push the trial —which could have wrapped up by early next week —at least into the end of next week.
The updated resolution also automatically accepts the House’s record of evidence in its impeachment inquiry, which was not done in the original version of the resolution.