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Impeachment trial will kick off with battle over witnesses

“It’s amazing that at this moment we still haven’t seen it,” he said.

But their calls for agreeing to hear witnesses at the outset of the trial have been rebuffed by McConnell. The GOP majority’s trial blueprint kicks the question of whether to hear witnesses until after House managers and the president’s defense present their case.

The Senate trial officially began Thursday, when the seven Democratic House managers who will argue the case for removing Trump from office presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

“The Senate will receive the managers of the House of Representatives to exhibit the articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump, president of the United States,” said McConnell Thursday at the start to the proceeding to formally begin the trial.

The managers, appointed on Wednesday by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, entered the Senate chamber with solemn expressions, accompanied by the Senate Sergeant at Arms. After entering the Senate chamber, the Sergeant at Arms presented the impeachment managers. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, then read aloud the articles of impeachment.

“President Trump used the powers of the presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process,” Schiff read.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and for blocking the House from further investigating the scandal. Trump’s Senate trial is the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

Senators mostly sat stone-faced as Schiff read the charges, though several occasionally scribbled on their fresh notebooks in front of them. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who led the charge to impeach Trump, sat aside Senate staff, soaking the moment in. Senators did not speak to each other or look at their phones, an immediate deviation from usual Senate conduct.

Senators will not be allowed to bring their cell phones into the Senate chamber while the trial is underway and by 2 p.m. there was almost no trace of their electronic devices.

Chief Justice John Roberts arrived in the Senate Thursday afternoon and entered the chamber, escorted by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Roberts, wearing a black robe, was sworn in by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate’s president pro tempore. He proceeded to administer the oath to “do impartial justice” to the senators in the chamber. The senators then, in groups of four, signed the oath book, overseen by Julie Adams, Secretary of the Senate.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had a family emergency, was the only senator missing from the trial. He will need to be sworn in Tuesday.

In addition to Schiff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has selected as managers House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) to present the House case.

Despite Thursday’s ceremonial proceedings, the impeachment trial will not begin in earnest until Tuesday, with the contentious vote on the rules package to govern the trial. Twenty years ago, Leahy successfully pitched Senate leadership on an all-senators meeting to avoid a partisan set of Senate rules. He asked Schumer and McConnell to consider doing the same this time, to no avail so far.

“I’ve suggested it. I’ll leave it up to them,” he said on Thursday.

While the Senate is gone, the House and president’s defense team will file their briefs. The House has until Saturday and the president’s brief is due Monday. The House will file a second brief Tuesday.

The mood on the Hill was somber, as members prepared for the trial.

“The feeling on the Senate floor, the mood on the floor is much different,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill. ). “I sensed it last night when the articles arrived and even again today. Certainly more security but also a sense of seriousness.”

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