I tried gaming out the possible schedule in a post a few days ago and couldn’t figure out a way for the trial to end before February 4, the day of the State of the Union. This, I thought, was the most aggressive timetable realistically:
It begins on the 21st, followed by a two-day break to give the defense time to prepare. Let’s say it resumes on the afternoon of the 23rd with the Dems’ opening arguments. They’ll probably use all 24 hours, i.e. three days [of eight-hour sessions], they’ve been granted in order to maximize their opportunity to reach the viewing public. That would take us to the afternoon of the 27th (including a Sunday break) before Trump’s defense gets its own opening argument. Assume they use two days instead of three purely in the interest of moving this show along. Now it’s the afternoon of the 29th. Assume a single day of written questions from the Senate instead of the three that were taken in 1999. That brings us to the afternoon of the 30th, when the debate on calling witnesses will begin. Assume a very speedy one-day deliberation for that too. Now it’s the 31st.
Let’s then go ahead and assume that Collins and Gardner and the rest choose not to call any witnesses, even though that now seems highly unlikely thanks to John Bolton’s publicly stated willingness to testify. Closing arguments would begin. Assume House Dems take a day and (after another Sunday break) Trump’s defense takes a day for its own argument as well. That’s February 3, caucus day [in Iowa]. Then the Senate would have to deliberate, or at least make a show of doing so. That’s another day, taking us to February 4th — the day of the State of the Union — before the acquittal would finally be issued.
But maybe there’s a faster way. What if … instead of splitting each side’s 24 hours of opening arguments into three eight-hour sessions the Senate chose to compress them into two days? Marathon trial sessions, from noon-ish to midnight! Could happen, says Politico:
In their partisan opening resolution, Republicans are considering providing 24 hours of opening arguments to both the House impeachment managers and the White House counsel. If each team wants to use the full amount of hours, they may have to do so over as few as two days, potentially leading to long trial days.
The current “posture is two, 12-hour periods. Quite honestly, I don’t believe that the White House would consume the 24 hours nor do I think based on the evidence if we read the evidence word for word from the House it would take 24 hours,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on Friday…
Then, the question and answer period could total 16 hours over as few as two days. In the most aggressive timetable described by some Republicans, a vote on witnesses could be held after just six days of arguments and questions. Or senators could decide moving things too quickly is a mistake and dial back the aggressive timeline and avoid the possibility of holding an impeachment trial late into the night.
Imagine House Democrats are forced to present their 24 hours of evidence over the course of just two days instead of three and that the White House, in the interest of finishing the trial expeditiously, takes just eight hours or so for its own defense. Instead of opening arguments taking six days in total they’d be down to three. Now there’s a real chance of ending the trial before Iowa votes on the 3rd and Trump delivers the SOTU on the 4th. Everything would depend on the debate over witnesses — how long it lasts, whether any are called, how many are called, how long it takes to depose them. The sheer pace of the trial to that point may put extra pressure on the Collins contingent in the GOP not to slow things down by calling Bolton, especially knowing that Trump would demand at least one witness in return and that would slow things down even further. We can get this done by the State of the Union, McConnell would whisper to them. What would they say?
Added bonus for Republicans: If there’s any chance of getting them back on the campaign trail before Iowa, even if it’s for just a few days, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar will obviously find a speedy trial appealing. You can imagine Bernie saying something to the effect of, “This whole trial is a sham. Republicans are in the tank, they won’t seriously consider the evidence, so why proceed further with this farce and risk legitimizing their verdict in the eyes of the public? Better that we vote now and wait to hear what John Bolton says in his book.” That could be the sort of cover Susan Collins need from the left to vote against calling witnesses after all. Result: The trial wraps on February 1 or so, Sanders et al. get to zip into Iowa for the final 48 hours before the caucus, and Trump is vindicated before the SOTU. Everyone wins!
Except, I guess, the many Democrats who don’t care about Bernie’s or Warren’s chances in Iowa and/or are pulling for Joe Biden. And the many people, especially in Collins’s and Cory Gardner’s home states, who want to hear from Bolton and are hoping for something resembling a meaningful trial with witnesses. And Republican voters who are excited to see the president mount a forceful defense replete with grilling Hunter Biden about Burisma in a deposition. With the timetable Republicans are considering, Trump’s “defense” may consist of as little as one day of his lawyers pontificating in court. No Hunter, no whistleblower, no Schiff. Just one day of challenging the evidence, after all this.
McConnell wants to use the accelerated timetable described above, according to a source who spoke to Politico. And Democrats may be powerless to stop him if he can hold the Republican caucus together: Supposedly the hour at which the trial wraps each day will be determined by a majority vote, just like everything else. If Collins, Romney, et al. want to let it run until midnight in the name of finishing sooner, it’ll run until midnight.
And yet, and yet, and yet. It’s hard to believe that no witnesses will be called, especially with Bolton having said publicly that he’ll show up. Collins really wants to be able to tell voters that she heard all the relevant testimony before she votes “not guilty.” She said last night that she’s “likely” to allow for witnesses to be called; Romney and Murkowski surely are too and Lamar Alexander sounds interested. That’s 51. Even if Alexander bails, John Roberts would probably cast a tiebreaking vote to call witnesses, with Bolton and the “reciprocal witness” of Hunter Biden the most likely suspects. If I were Trump I’d ask Pelosi for a two-week raincheck on the SOTU on grounds that he can’t in good conscience appear before the House at a moment when it’s persecuting him with a witch hunt, etc, and then do it on the 18th. The big acquittal vote will have happened by then.