Democrats are focusing Thursday’s presentation on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, one of two that was passed by the House last month. They plan to lean into evidence they gathered in their investigation to argue the President used his office to try to extract investigations into his political rivals while withholding US security aid and a valued White House meeting — and why that conduct merits impeachment and removal.
Setting up the day’s presentation, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, explained why there was repetition to the House’s argument — a rebuttal to criticisms from Senate Republicans.
“Of necessity, there will be some repetition of information from (Wednesday’s) chronology,” Schiff said. “We will now show you these facts, and many others, and show you how they are interwoven. You will see some of these facts and videos in a new context, and a new light, in the light of what else we know, and why it compels a finding of guilt and conviction.
“They’re laying out their case multiple times. … They really made the same case three times,” said Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican. “But then they spent a lot of the big chunk of the center part of the day, really, talking about things that are not relevant or that are policy issues for instance firing an ambassador, not taking the advice of career professionals — all those things, those are not impeachable.”
Dems eye convincing 4 Republicans
Still, Democrats are looking to use their 24 hours for opening arguments, which is spread across three days, to drop new information that takes senators — and the press by surprise. In fact, part of their argument is that they need additional witnesses and documents to obtain new information that would supplement what they describe as overwhelming evidence of the President’s guilt.
But Democrats’ focus is on building a complete case — one that’s targeted at a small group of Senate moderates they hope they can convince to cross the aisle and vote with them on key witnesses like the President’s former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. While three Republicans have hinted they could be open to — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — Democrats would need to convince four in order to have the votes they would need to issue subpoenas for documents and witnesses.
“The same Republicans saying they heard nothing new just voted nine times on Tuesday to hear nothing new. If they want new stuff, there’s plenty of it,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a reference to votes on amendments to the trial rules to obtain new witness testimony and evidence. “As the managers made clear, a lot of the documents are sitting there, all compiled, all ready to go, with simply a vote of four republicans to subpoena them.”
At the same time, the President’s allies are also working behind the scenes to lobby wavering GOP senators to oppose any witnesses, a source familiar with the process told CNN. The effort includes calls not only from members of the President’s team and allies on Capitol Hill, but also identifying people that the senators trust and respect from a wide variety of places, including back home, and getting them to call.
That vote on whether to have witnesses and obtain additional documents would likely happen next week after opening arguments from both sides and 16 hours of time for senators to ask questions concludes.
Some of the Republicans who Democrats are targeting aren’t saying yet how they’ll vote on subpoenas for witnesses and documents.
“We are doing a really good job of allowing the House managers to make the case. … They say themselves they presented overwhelming evidence; they’ve done a good job of that. And then we can decide if we need additional documents or evidence,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring at the end of his term.
Romney said Thursday that he wasn’t going to comment on “evidence or the process” until the trial was completed.
The Democrats’ best chance for a GOP crossover is Collins, who reiterated on Thursday that she was likely to vote for additional documents and witnesses. “I tend to like information and would anticipate I would vote for more,” she said.
But Murkowski, another key moderate, raised questions about why Democrats want the Senate to subpoena witnesses — and potentially end up in court over them — when the House did not take that step.
“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts,” she said. “And yet now they’re basically saying you guys gotta go through the courts. We didn’t, but we need you to.”
Long hours take their toll on senators
On the Senate floor, the long hours where senators are required to stay but not speak are taking their toll on a body where the average age is about 63 years old.
While Senate rules encourage members to be seated at their desks during the remainder of the trial, long days and sometimes longer nights have worn members down. While breaks in decorum that the first day of arguments didn’t surface until the late hours of the night, on Wednesday they were happening earlier and earlier inside the chamber.
Senators have taken to pacing around the chamber and standing behind their desks to keep from falling asleep at their desks. Many senators are writing during the trial, both to take notes but also to keep engaged.
Wednesday evening, Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky was spotted with a crossword puzzle. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 presidential hopeful from Vermont, was seen whispering to his fellow contender Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota during the trial, and GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas enjoyed glasses of milk, one of two accepted beverages for the floor. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was nowhere to be seen in the final hour of Wednesday’s session.
Schiff acknowledged the senators’ predicament in his opening remarks on Thursday, thanking them for “their long and considerable attention” over the first two days of the trial, and making light of how rare it was for House members to command the attention of senators “sitting silently for hours — or even for minutes, for that matter.”
“Of course, It doesn’t hurt that the morning starts out every day with the sergeant-at-arms warning you that if you don’t, you will be imprisoned,” Schiff said. “It’s our hope that when the trial concludes, and you’ve heard from us and you’ve heard the President’s counsel over a series of long days, that you don’t choose imprisonment instead of anything further.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.
CNN’s Dana Bash, Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.