While senators await the House of Representatives to move into the public phase of their impeachment inquiry, aides and members are beginning to prepare for a likely Senate trial.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are cautious: there are no articles of impeachment and the House hasn’t voted to impeach the President. But, the logistical undertaking of a Senate impeachment trial isn’t an easy lift and can’t snap into action overnight leading to conversations that have begun in even small ways.
Talks are underway between Senate aides and even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ team over simple things like where Roberts’ office will be during the trial, one Senate aide told CNN. The last time the Senate did this was the 1990s for the trial of then-President Bill Clinton, when staffers didn’t all need their own computers and the chief justice was housed just off the Senate floor in the Senate president’s room.
That room, logistically speaking 20 years later, isn’t likely to work in an era where staffers need hardwired internet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has been preparing members for the reality of what is to come: six-day work weeks, no talking on the Senate floor and the reality that not much Senate business – if any – will get done.
And, behind the scenes, some members and aides have been brushing up on the Federalist Papers and re-watching the Clinton impeachment, trying to gear up for what is an incredibly complicated and unusual process.
“I have read through the Federalist Papers and (I’m) looking at precedent with regards to other impeachments in the past and will continue that legal analysis. But, the fact analysis, we will have to wait for the House,” Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican of Utah, told CNN last week.
Senate Democrats are also getting ready, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, contacting 2020 presidential candidates who may be glued to the Senate chamber well into December and January – times when they’d typically be campaigning in Iowa. Multiple aides told CNN that Schumer has been having conversations with 2020 contenders about the next phase.
Schumer’s office has also set up a central document hub of information where staffers can go to access information on what the House’s impeachment inquiry looks like, Senate history and past impeachment battles.
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, are in regular contact, per a senior Democratic aide. Schumer has asked his caucus to focus on a multi-faceted messaging strategy including that the House investigation must continue “unimpeded;” that senators have a responsibility to put country over party if a trial does take place; and the Senate “can and should” be talking about changing laws on gun safety, climate change, health care and election security even as the impeachment inquiry heats up, the aide said.
Schumer has held multiple conference calls with his caucus about impeachment, and the caucus has discussed this at Senate lunches.
A key question is whether lawmakers can come together to adopt a resolution on the rules of the trial, given the partisan nature of this impeachment inquiry.
During the Clinton impeachment, senators unanimously adopted a resolution that set the rules for that trial. Those rules set the witness list and schedule for things like when motions were due. Negotiations on such a resolution are not underway now, according to multiple aides CNN has talked to in the last several days, because members aren’t sure the way the articles of impeachment will be drafted.
There is some institutional knowledge for this inquiry, in that 28 members currently in Congress were in the House or Senate during the Clinton impeachment, according to an aide. That list includes Sens. Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, and Schumer, who were in the House for the impeachment in 1998 but then won election to the Senate in that year’s midterm elections. Both were in the Senate for Clinton’s trial in January and February of 1999. Frequent Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, then a congressman from South Carolina, was also one of the House managers during the Clinton impeachment.