The Senate impeachment trial is now underway; here’s what we can expect

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The Capitol and Senate are seen in Washington, early Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The Senate is taking the handoff from the House of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump and preparing for a trial set to get underway next week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — On Thursday, the two Articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump were read in the United States Senate.

It’s only the third time in American history.

What will happen over the next few weeks is a mix of both a lot of structure and a lot of unknown.

A film strip shows Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) stand next to President Bill Clinton during a Democratic Unity event on Capitol Hill several months after the Senate acquitted the 42nd President of the United States. (Library of Congress)

Only two Presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have gone through a Senate trial. Much of what will happen is based on historical accounts of what happened during those trials.

Where is the impeachment process?

Trump was impeached on December 17, 2019, by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Constitution of the United States grants that power only to the House. However, the same founding document grants the power to remove from office only to the United States Senate.

The video below explains how we got to this point:

What comes next?

All 100 U.S. Senators are now jurors in the trial. The proceedings officially began on Thursday, with the swearing-in of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and then all of the Senators.

Senate leadership said the trial will begin “in earnest” on Tuesday.

The rules: No phones, no talking, no standing

A unique situation for these Senators is the intense rules for the members of Congress, the media, the Congressional staff and the public.

  • Senators must remain seated at all times during proceedings.
  • Electronics are not allowed on the Senate floor during the trial. Cabinets have been set up for the members of Congress to put their phones and tablets in.
  • The Senators must be in attendance at all times during the trial. This includes the three Senators running for President (Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders).
  • Senators are not supposed to talk to their colleagues on the floor of the Senate. There will also be “limited” opportunities to speak publicly.
  • Questions must be written down and turned over to Chief Justice John Roberts.
  • Reading materials with the Senators can only pertain to what is happening at that moment in the trial.
  • If a vote is needed, the Senators will stand and vote from their desks, but not leave their desks.
  • The Senate side of the Capitol will be restricted to the members of the Senate, one staff member per Senator, media and limited guests of the media.
  • The galleries will be opened to the public. Tickets are limited to four per Senator, per day.
  • The media in the chamber cannot bring laptops, phones or cameras.
  • The cameras being broadcast are not from TV networks or even C-SPAN. They are permanently mounted cameras on the chamber. This means that viewers at home will not be able to see reactions from members of the Senate.

Where the Senate stands

In order to convict and remove from office, the Senate will need a two-thirds majority: 67 Senators. There are 47 Democrats (including two Independents who caucus with Democrats) and 53 Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

As jurors, the members of the Senate are supposed to remain impartial, according to the oath 99 of the 100 Senators took on Thursday. One Senator was not present, due to a medical issue, but is expected to be sworn in next week.

Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?

Oath delivered to U.S. Senators on January 16, 2020, by chief Justice john Roberts

South Dakota’s role in impeachment

Before Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, South Dakota had never had a say in a presidential impeachment. Statehood came 21 years after Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial. While the Dakota Territory sent a delegate to Washington, he had no power to vote.

Richard Nixon was the next president on track to be impeached by the U.S. House. The only vote that took place after the inquiry had begun was in the House Judiciary Committee. Neither of South Dakota’s two Democrats in the U.S. House served on that committee. Nixon resigned before the full House took up impeachment.

At the end of the 20th century, then-Rep. John Thune (R-SD) voted for three of the four articles of impeachment against Clinton. Only two of the four articles moved to the U.S. Senate.

South Dakota’s role in this rare process took center stage at this point.

Then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was the Senate Majority Leader. That’s the current role of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., left, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., right, appear together at a news conference on Capitol Hill in this Jan. 5, 2001. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert/File)

Daschle and then-Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) worked together to lay out the rules for the trial.

They began the trial unified on a 100-0 vote.

The bipartisanship didn’t last long and began to fall apart during a vote about the testimony.

That is already the big issue for Senators in the current trial. The Democrats have several witnesses they would like to call, and some moderate Republicans have signaled they would agree with that.

There is a chance there will be a vote still to begin the trial, according to McConnell.

“If that unanimous bipartisan precedent was good enough for President Clinton, it should be our template for President Trump,” McConnell said. “Fair is fair.”

Former Senate Minority Leaders Tom Daschle, left, and Trent Lott listen during the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Daschle and Lott came together in October to write an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on the Senate to conduct a fair trial.

Washington Post Headline

“Can today’s Senate, consisting of senators holding strongly opposed views and representing a deeply divided nation, put aside those differences and conduct a fair, nonpartisan presidential impeachment trial, if it comes to that? It is a challenge with a high degree of difficulty, but we believe it can and must be done. And we hope senators will look to the Senate’s last presidential impeachment trial as a model,” the two wrote.

FILE – In this Dec. 19, 1998 file photo, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton watches President Clinton pause as he thanks those Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against impeachment at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

They wrote that the Senate gathered in a closed session to get on the same page to conduct the trial fairly.

“While we were committed to “do impartial justice,” as our impeachment trial oath required, we had very different perspectives on key questions — as did our caucuses — and, indeed, those differences remained throughout the trial and the final vote. But from the outset of our negotiations, we both understood how vitally important it was to rise above those differences in order to conduct a trial that would inspire the confidence of the public and withstand the unsparing scrutiny of history,” Daschle and Lott wrote.

The two leaders, neither in Congress today, said they were proud of the way the Senate conducted itself and did so in what they believe was a fair and impartial way.

“Not everyone was happy with that outcome. But we heard almost no complaints about the trial itself,” they wrote.

The hyper-partisanship in the 2020s could prove to be a different experience.

“I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell said in December. “This is a political process. There is not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision.”

McConnell took the oath on Thursday and signed the oath book, agreeing to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”

Thune and Rounds reaction to impeachment

Sen. John Thune signs oath book (Senate TV/via C-SPAN)
Sen. Mike Rounds signs oath book (Senate TV/via C-SPAN)

Both of South Dakota’s Senators also signed the oath book on Thursday afternoon. Thune is a member of the Republican leadership and as the whip, it’s his job to know where his colleagues stand on issues.

What’s unclear is if “whipping the vote” will happen during an impeachment. Possibly when it relates to procedural issues, like calling witnesses. Several Republicans have voiced interest in siding with Democrats for certain witnesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., walk to speak with reporters, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 in Washington, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“We’re having conversations among our members are and we kind of know generally where most people are on some of those key issues,” Thune said Tuesday.

When it comes to the actual votes for the removal of the President, it may be up to each individual Senator to come to his or her conclusion. Both Republican and Democratic House leaders said in various interviews there was no whipping of the votes, including the initial vote to begin the inquiry.

KELOLAND News reached out to Thune’s office on Thursday morning to ask, but have not heard back.

Rounds talked with KELOLAND’s Washington D.C. Bureau on Thursday, with his reaction to the trial beginning.

On Tuesday, Thune told reporters this is the most-rushed impeachment in history.

In a December interview with KELOLAND News, South Dakota’s senior Senator promised a fair process.

“In the Senate, we will conduct a fair process. We will give both sides an opportunity to be heard, and hopefully draw a conclusion without it dragging on for a long period of time,” Thune said.

In a September 2019 interview with KELOLAND News, Thune said “there was not any suggestion of an exchange of assistance” in the partial transcript released of a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president.

“That being said, I’m not a fan of the way in many cases the president goes about this and I would prefer he would not raise an issue like that with a foreign leader,” Thune said.

In September, Thune also used what happened to his party in the Clinton impeachment as a hesitation about moving forward with impeachment.

“I think the Democrats run the risk of what we went through in 1998 and that is again perhaps getting ahead of where the American people are or out of sync with what they believe,” Thune said. “I think in the end it’s going to be the American people who render the ultimate judgment on this.”

The Associated Press has asked all members of the Senate about their support of the removal of office. No Democrats have responded. Seven Republicans said they do not support it. The rest have either not responded or are undecided.

Thune and Rounds did not respond.