Little to no signs were seen that Democrat arguments had changed any minds among Republican senators who control the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, January 23, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, January 23, 2020. (Julio Cortez / AP)

On the second day of House Democrats laying out their case in the US Senate for removing President Donald Trump, there was little sign on Thursday that their arguments had changed any minds among Republican senators who control the chamber.

The Senate began consideration Tuesday of the rules that will govern the trial of US President Donald Trump, and his possible, if unlikely, removal from office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the draft rules late Monday, stoking the ire of congressional Democrats who say they are tantamount to a "cover up."

McConnell has sought to portray the rules as replicating those that governed the Senate trial of former President Bill Clinton, repeating his claim on the Senate floor ahead of the debate.

"This basic four-part structure aligns with the first steps of the Clinton impeachment trial," he said. "There's no reason other than base partisanship to say this particular president deserves a radically different rulebook than what was good enough for a past president of your own party."

But the package he put forth differs in key ways.

Unlike Clinton’s trial, opening arguments are limited to just two days, with each side having 24 hours to make their case.

No Republican senators who spoke to reporters during breaks in the proceedings on Wednesday and Thursday said they had heard anything to convince them that Trump's interactions with Ukraine warranted his removal from office. A handful said they had already made up their minds to acquit their party's leader.

Their comments underscore that Trump is almost certain to be acquitted in the third presidential impeachment trial in US history. Democrats have expressed concerns that Republicans, who hold 53 of the Senate's 100 seats, are not keeping an open mind about the evidence they have gathered.

Republicans counter that the Democrats have failed to make their case against Trump.

Democrats in the House of Representatives have accused Trump of withholding military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face off against Trump in November's presidential election.

Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana told reporters he would likely vote to acquit Trump absent surprising new details from the House Democratic lawmakers, who are due on Friday to wrap up their opening arguments on why Trump should be convicted.

"If I don't hear any more information that would sway me otherwise ... that would be for acquittal," Braun said.

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has resisted calling any witnesses or allowing any new evidence to be admitted, angering Democrats who say that a proper trial cannot take place without them.

Given that reality, the seven Democratic impeachment managers led by Representative Adam Schiff have devoted their time since Wednesday to recounting what the House learned in their months-long inquiry, peppering their presentations with video clips of impeachment inquiry witnesses and Trump himself.

Other Republican senators professed boredom, including Senator Thom Tillis, who said he has made up his mind to acquit Trump and dismissed the House presentation as repetitive.

"It reminds of the shopping channel, the hits of the '80s, you hear it again and again and again and again," Tillis said. "I can almost recite the testimony."

Several other senators said they did not believe that the allegations against Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, rose to the level of impeachment, the ultimate sanction against a US president.

Grudging admiration

Some Republican senators voiced grudging admiration for the Democrats' presentation.

"Quite frankly, I thought they did a good job of taking bits and pieces of the evidence and creating a quilt out of it," said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump's loudest Senate defenders.

But he looked forward to Trump's lawyers' case beginning on Saturday: "What I will tell my colleagues is the other side gets to talk and see if they can pull a thread here and pull a thread there and see if it holds up."

While the US Constitution charges senators to serve as impartial jurors in an impeachment trial, they are afforded far more leeway than jurors in American courts. A juror in a high-profile criminal case who offered their opinion publicly before the trial was over would be tossed from the jury and perhaps face jail time.

Some prominent Republicans, including those facing competitive re-election bids and critics of Trump, said they were holding off on making a decision.

"Sorry, but I'm not going to be commenting on the evidence or process until the entire trial is over," said Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and sometimes Trump critic.

Democrats rally

Democrats have come out strongly against the proposed ground rules with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying they "seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump."

"Contrary to what the leader has said, the McConnell rules are not at all like the Clinton rules," he later said on the Senate floor. "The Republican leader's resolution is based neither in precedent, nor in principle.
It is driven by partisanship and the politics of the moment."

Schumer has promised to call for a series of votes on amendments to the rules package, but he is facing an uphill battle in the Republican-held chamber. Defections that would bring Democrats to the necessary 51 votes needed to pass the amendments seem unlikely so far.

Democrats have been seeking to have House evidence admitted for the trial, and want to have testimony from key individuals who did not participate in the House investigation included in the proceedings, including Trump's former National Security Advisor John Bolton and the president's Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said he will offer a "series of amendments" to include those measures in the trial's rules, but McConnell said he would quickly table any such effort "because the Senate will decide those questions later in the trial."

Trump was impeached in December by the House of Representatives on two charges: obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.

The Senate's impeachment trial began Thursday with the reading aloud of the two House of Representatives-passed charges, making Trump the third chief executive in US history to face Senate proceedings.

The two articles of impeachment against Trump -abuse of power and obstruction of Congress-related to his repeated effort to have Ukraine declare criminal investigations into leading Democratic candidate Joe Biden, and his subsequent refusal to cooperate with the House's investigation of the matter and his directive that top officials do the same.

Neither of the previous two presidents who face Senate trials, Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868, were removed from office as a result of the proceedings.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies