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Transcript: Bonus: Rewriting the Rules

The Senate made some unexpected changes to trial rules on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2020.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images


Article II: Inside Impeachment

Bonus: Rewriting the Rules

Steve Kornacki: From NBC News, this is a bonus episode of Article Two Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Tuesday, January 21st. And here's what's happening.

Archival Recording: Do you solemnly swear that in all things pertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, President of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?

Kornacki: Just after 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Senate impeachment trial began in earnest today. Now, we know there has been a lot happening today. Maybe you've been watching it on TV, trying to follow it online, picking up bits and pieces where you can. But we wanted to take you through what I think is clearly the most significant development today. And it started with a fight over the ground rules.

Mitch McConnell: First, the Senate will hear an opening presentation from the House managers. Second, we will hear from the president's counsel.

Kornacki: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposed resolution, which was released late Monday night, called for a shortened timeline that would not automatically include the House's impeachment evidence.

McConnell: Our straightforward resolution will bring the clarity and fairness that everyone deserves. This is the fair road map for our trial. We need it in place before we can move forward.

Kornacki: Under McConnell's rules, opening arguments would be confined to just 24 hours per side over only two days. Democrats responded with outrage.

Chuck Schumer: The McConnell resolution will result in a rush trial with little evidence in the dark of night, literally the dark of night.

Adam Schiff: So to justice, senators and counsel for the president, the House managers on behalf of the House of Representatives rise in opposition to Leader McConnell's resolution.

Kornacki: But just minutes after lead, House manager Adam Schiff took to the Senate floor to begin making this argument, Mitch McConnell did something unexpected.

Nicolle Wallace: McConnell has already lost his grip on his caucus. The rules that he made clear last night, he had the votes for to not permit any of the evidence from the House investigation into the record. Those have changed already. I think we made...

Kornacki: He made last minute hand written changes to the rules of the trial. McConnell scratched out the number two and replaced it with a handwritten three in the resolution, amending the rules to allow for opening arguments to take place over three days per side instead of two. He also changed the rules so that house evidence would automatically be entered into the record. It was a surprising and substantial concession from McConnell, indicating there may have been pressure from moderate Republicans in his conference. Here's my colleague Garrett Haake reporting from the Capitol.

Garrett Haake: Our team reached out immediately to all the usual suspects senators here who we thought might have been the ones leaning on McConnell to make this change. And the only office that got back to us right away to say, in fact, they were involved on this was Susan Collins.

Kornacki: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She has been repeatedly calling for a fair trial. She told reporters that these changes were, quote, a significant improvement. Collins said that today's trial should follow the Clinton model as closely as possible. It's worth noting, though, that back in 1999, both sides were actually allowed to make opening arguments over four days and not three. So far, this is still shaping up to be a shorter trial. Now, right now, as a record, this is about four thirty Eastern Time in the afternoon in debate about further amendments to the rules is very much still under way. So it's possible that things could change further.

Kornacki: But as things currently stand, house managers will make their opening arguments first. Three days will start tomorrow and stretch until Friday. The White House defense will then make its opening arguments beginning on Saturday with a day off on Sunday and resuming on Monday and Tuesday. The question of whether or not there will be witnesses is expected to be debated next week. We'll be following all of this. But I know there's a lot to listen to, a lot to watch and a lot to read in these coming days. And we want to help try to clarify things for you where we can. So if you have questions about this Senate trial, please send them our way. You can write to us at article to podcast at Gmail dot com. That article to write it out there. T w o. Article 2 podcast at Gmail dot com. We're gonna try and answer your questions over the next few weeks as all of this drama unfolds in the Senate trial. And that's all for today. We'll back on Wednesday.