President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial formally opened in the Senate on Tuesday, promising to shape his legacy, deepen the country’s political divisions and influence control of power in the nation’s capital for years to come.
While the president faces little risk of removal from office by the Republican-led Senate, the trial may bring to life new details of Trump’s Ukraine scandal and help sway undecided voters in the 2020 elections.
The nationally televised proceedings will be aimed at voters who will decide in November whether to reward Trump with a second term, and determine which party should control the House and Senate. The conduct of both Democratic and Republican senators — who will be forced to remain in the chamber during the sessions and abide by strict rules — will be under a microscope.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed rules for the trial earlier that could bring it to a conclusion within days, with much of the action taking place out of public view or in the dead of night.
Trump is heading into impeachment with weakened public support, despite having one of the strongest economies in years. Head-to-head national polling shows former Vice President Joe Biden, the president’s top rival, consistently beating Trump in the popular vote. And a survey by CNN released on the eve of the trial showed that a majority of Americans — 51% — support the Senate voting to remove the president from office.
The trial could shift those numbers and carries the potential for unpredictability, as Democrats may win enough support from moderate GOP senators to call witnesses.
If that happens, top administration officials with damaging information could speak publicly for the first time, provided Trump doesn’t block them by invoking executive privilege.
New documents could also emerge that provide details on Trump’s effort to force Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. But McConnell is trying to keep a tight grip on how the trial unfolds. McConnell revealed his proposed rules for the trial, giving House managers just two days to prosecute their case against the president. It’s an accelerated pace compared to President Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial that betrays Republicans’ eagerness to end the impeachment saga.
McConnell also plans to put off the question of witnesses until after both sides present their case and answer senators’ questions. The White House would be able to seek a quick dismissal of the two articles of impeachment soon after the trial rules are adopted.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham announced that eight Republican members of the House who aggressively attacked the impeachment inquiry would join his defense team. The first battle — likely to take place out of public view — will be over Democrats’ amendments to the trial rules.
Under decades-old Senate impeachment trial rules, all debate will be in secret — barring the unlikely success of a Democratic bid to open it to the public. So Americans will see only the roll-call votes on amendments and McConnell’s resolution on trial rules.
Trump is trying to win re-election by stoking his supporters’ sense of grievance and oppression while painting Democrats as unhinged and willing to attack him at all costs.