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There are a few things we know about the final stage of the Senate impeachment trial that begins Friday afternoon, but there are still quite a few things that are unclear about how it will all go down.
The Senate will hear up to four hours of debate from President Trump’s lawyers and from the Democratic House impeachment managers, starting just after 1 p.m., on whether to call witnesses. And then there will be a vote on whether to consider witnesses, probably around 5 p.m.
That vote is expected to fail or end in a tie. Chief Justice John Roberts, the presiding officer over the trial, could break the tie with a ruling in favor of considering witnesses, or against it, but he is not expected to do so. And if he does not rule on a tie vote, the motion fails and witnesses will not even be considered.
But after that, the delay tactics available to Democrats are virtually endless. Any motion or amendment is “in order,” meaning Republicans in the majority have no power to force an end to deliberations. If Democrats want to propose motions, which usually provide for up to two hours of debate, they can do so as long as they want.
But senators will still not be able to speak. All the speaking will be done by the president’s lawyers and House impeachment managers.
Speaking at a late Friday morning press conference, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did not divulge what his plans were. He did say this: “I believe that the American people should hear what every senator thinks and why they’re voting the way they’re voting.”
That could represent the concession he wants from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in exchange for agreeing to bring the trial to an end. But it’s not clear, and would likely require a resolution on a new procedure that would allow for senators to make public comments.
There are reports that Democrats might delay the trial into Saturday, and perhaps into next week, past President Trump’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speculated to Fox News congressional reporter Chad Pergram that this might happen.
Of course, that would also mean the impeachment trial would go beyond the Iowa caucuses on Monday.
But the only person who really knows is Schumer, and on Friday morning, he was in a fighting mood, declaring that if Republicans do not allow witnesses and do not subpoena documents from the White House that have so far been blocked, it will amount to "the greatest cover-up since Watergate.”
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