The impeachment trial of President Trump in the U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. The Senate, which typically doesn’t meet on Mondays, is set to convene as a court of impeachment at noon central time (1 p.m in Washington D.C.).
CSPAN-2 will televise the trial in its entirety, both on cable and online. Cable news channels have committed to significant portions of the trial, as has PBS NewsHour. The only camera feed of the proceedings will come from the CSPAN camera in the Senate chamber, and what that camera shows is controlled by the Senate, not the cable network.
CSPAN sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking him to allow a camera crew to fully cover the proceedings, but has not received a response from McConnell. It is likely that the camera feed will be highly restricted, focusing only on whoever is speaking at the moment, with a few wide shots of the chamber interspersed.
Both senators and the reporters in the Senate Press Gallery covering the trial will have to surrender all their electronic devices, including phones, before being admitted to the chamber. The New York Times is including Art Lien, a courtroom sketch artist, as part of its team in the press gallery to produce some visual record of the trial beyond the single video camera feed.
The first session of the impeachment court on Tuesday will focus on establishing rules and procedures. All proposals must be passed by a majority vote of the 100 members of the Senate. (The current partisan makeup of the Senate is 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents — Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine — both of whom caucus with the Democrats.)
One of the major issues to be settled on Tuesday is whether witnesses will be called during the trial. Speaking to reporters during a conference call on Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst seemed to dismiss the need for witnesses.
Ernst was asked about a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office published earlier that day, which concluded President Trump broke a federal law when he ordered aid to Ukraine withheld to pressure that country’s government, the act that’s at the center of the articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives in December.
“One thing to remember, folks, is that the president did actually provide aid to Ukraine,” Ernst said. “So, the point is moot, I believe.”
The aid to Ukraine was released after the White House learned a whistleblower had filed a complaint alleging the reason the aid was being withheld was to pressure Ukraine into taking an action that would serve no purpose other than to help Trump in his reelection campaign.
As to whether the report bolstered the case for hearing witnesses to the president’s actions, Ernst said, “So, again, I think the point is moot. So, no I don’t believe that we need to hear from additional witnesses based on that information because he got the aid to Ukraine, and in a way that was specified by Congress. So he did actually follow through on congressional intent. So that in itself, I don’t believe is a qualifier for additional witnesses.”
Ernst again criticized the House’s decision to impeach Trump as a “political exercise.”
Although Ernst did not issue an official statement when the House voted for impeachment on Dec. 19, she did issue one when it voted to begin the hearings that led to impeachment.
“House Democrats have spent more than two years — since the morning of November 9, 2016 — engaging in antics to undermine President Trump,” Ernst said at the time in a written statement. “The fact that they are pushing for impeachment is no surprise, as their motives have always been crystal clear.”
Iowa’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley, also did not issue an official statement when the House impeached Trump. But like Ernst, he did issue a written statement at the beginning of the House hearings, in which he also dismissed the inquiry as an illegitimate partisan attempt to undermine the president.
On Thursday afternoon, Grassley formally accepted the articles of impeachment on behalf of the Senate. The 86-year-old Iowan did so in his role as Senate President Pro Tempore, a role filled by the longest-serving member of the majority party. (Grassley was first elected to the Senate in November 1980.)
After Grassley accepted the articles from the House impeachment managers, Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the impeachment trial, administered the oath senators take to serve as impeachment jurors.
Each senator swore “That in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
Whether that oath will be faithfully followed has been called into question, since Sen. McConnell has said, “Everything I do during this [trial] I’m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position.”
During the conference call on Thursday, which took place before the chief justice administrated the oath, Ernst told reporters, “We will hear the record that has been presented by the House, all of the information they were able to put together and present with those articles of impeachment. We will be as fair as possible.”