The Senate on Wednesday started the clock on a total of 16 hours of questions from lawmakers _ spread over two days and directed at House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s attorneys.
But the biggest question looming over the trial won’t be answered: Will enough Republicans join Democrats to vote in favor of subpoenaing witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, or will GOP leaders succeed in keeping their caucus united to bring the trial to a swift end?
Republicans and Democrats began at 1 p.m. Eastern alternating questions that must be submitted in writing and read aloud. The sessions come after six days of oral arguments over Trump’s impeachment by the House for pressing Ukraine to investigate Democrats while withholding U.S. aid to the country.
The Senate is expected to address the question of witnesses on Friday.
Democrats would need to convince four Republicans to cross the aisle and vote with them to subpoena witnesses and start a debate over who should testify. While two Republicans _ Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine _ have indicated they are likely to want to hear from Bolton, it is unclear whether there will be two additional GOP votes. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, indicated Wednesday that all Democrats and the two independents that caucus with the party would support the idea of opening the trial to witnesses.
But Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., broke ranks Wednesday by indicating that he would also like to hear from Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Republicans have threatened to subpoena Hunter Biden if Democrats insist on calling Bolton.
Hunter Biden was on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that faced corruption allegations while his father was in office. Hunter Biden’s position raised conflict-of-interest concerns, but there is no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Most Democrats say Hunter Biden’s testimony would be immaterial to the impeachment. But Manchin disagreed, calling Hunter Biden a relevant witness.
“Being afraid to put anybody who might have pertinent information is wrong whether, no matter if, you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” Manchin said on MSNBC.
At the center of Trump’s impeachment was his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president in which he pressed the foreign leader to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Democrats say that amounted to asking a foreign government to intervene in the 2020 presidential election.
There is no official time limit on Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, but Chief Justice John Roberts, the trial’s presiding officer, suggested to lawyers Tuesday that they should adhere to the model set up by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial of a five-minute limit on answers. If that limit is adhered to and all the time is used, senators could _ in theory _ ask upwards of 150 questions.
During the Clinton trial, senators asked about 106 questions, according to the congressional record, and only used about 10 hours over two days. Senators have suggested that they expect to use nearly all of the time this week.
Democratic leaders have collected proposed questions from their side to “avoid duplication and pick the ones in sequences that make sense in terms of delivering a message,” according to Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. Republicans discussed their questions at a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Pointed inquiries are expected from Republicans of the lead impeachment manager, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., and whether he should have pushed harder to get Bolton’s testimony during the House investigation. Bolton was asked to testify but not subpoenaed, with House Democrats arguing that Bolton had made clear he would go to court to fight the subpoena, as one of his close colleagues did.
Both Republicans and Democrats have suggested they have questions about Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose activities in Ukraine were central to the House impeachment.
“I want to confirm that Rudy Giuliani was working personally for the president and not on behalf of the United States of America,” said Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said he’d like to know why the House never really pursued Giuliani’s testimony.
When asked Tuesday, several senators refused to reveal their questions in advance or offered vague outlines.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he would ask about executive “privilege and some other questions that concern constitutional rights.”
By Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times