RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In just a few hours, the Senate will begin the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. On this initial day, you can expect to see and hear a lot from two people - Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. This because before the trial can start in earnest, the Senate has to agree on a set of rules for the trial, and Democrats are not on board - far from it, in fact. NPR has obtained a copy of McConnell's resolution. It gives the Democratic impeachment managers and the president's lawyers up to 24 hours each to present their cases. Senators would also get 16 hours of session time to ask questions. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said McConnell's plan is proof of a Republican cover up. Senator Schumer joins me now from Capitol Hill. Thank you so much for being with us.
CHUCK SCHUMER: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: I know you've got a lot of issues with the rules proposed by Senator McConnell. What is the biggest problem, as you see it?
SCHUMER: Well, look, it's clear that McConnell's rules caused the trial to be rushed with as little evidence as possible in the dark of night. They do not want the evidence to come out. For instance, they don't even allow the record of the House evidence to be put in the Senate record. So they say we don't want the existing evidence. And since they're against witnesses and documents, they don't want new evidence. What is a trial without evidence? Maybe most egregious of all, they require the House managers' case, which is so compelling because I've read their brief, to be done in the dark of night because if they want to use all their time, they'll have to go till 2, 3 in the morning.
MARTIN: Because, literally, it doesn't get underway until - 1 o'clock in the afternoon is the start time. So the argument being...
SCHUMER: Yes. The chief justice - look, I would say that these rules are a national disgrace. Let's look at this, Rachel. Impeachment is a very solemn, serious and almost sacred obligation of the Congress when a president overreaches. The president has said he did nothing wrong. Well, obviously, if the president blackmailed a foreign country to interfere in our election, that erodes our democracy in a way we have never seen it before. And if presidents are allowed to do that, this president or future presidents, faith in democracy withers. Other people are trying it. So we need the evidence to come out, and we don't need to rush it, and we don't need to say no witnesses and no documents. That's just not fair. If they were so - if the president and Mitch McConnell were so confident of the president's case, they wouldn't be calling for the House managers to do things at 2 in the morning.
MARTIN: Although, Mitch McConnell hasn't completely closed the door to witnesses, correct? I mean, he's said that - left open the possibility that they could be called after the arguments have been made, which is in line with how the Clinton impeachment happened. What's the problem with that, as you see it?
SCHUMER: Well, two problems - first, the Clinton impeachment trial is not analogous because there was a whole record beforehand, and they did have witnesses, but there was a record beforehand. There is no record. The House made the record. They didn't have these star testimony and all of that. So that's No. 1. But No. 2 - in these new rules, he makes it far less certain that after the presentations are made that we can get witnesses. He puts lots of barriers in the way of witnesses and documents. So this is not even like the Clinton rules, which would have been unfair to begin with. He has taken the Clinton rules, taken them to President Trump, who wants this whole thing covered up and wishes there were no trial at all, and gone along with what Trump wanted, not what the Constitution demands, not what's fair. It's a cover up.
MARTIN: But you want to call witnesses who never appeared in the House inquiry. How do you justify that?
SCHUMER: Very simply. They weren't allowed to appear in the House inquiry. The House subpoenaed them, and President Trump said no. And so here in the Senate where the weight of a subpoena would be much stronger signed by the chief justice, who'd be sitting there in the chair, we have a very good chance to get these witnesses if four Republicans will go along with us.
MARTIN: Although Adam Schiff didn't - Adam Schiff didn't pursue the subpoenas in the courts. He didn't push.
SCHUMER: Because it would have - it would have taken so long that it would have occurred probably after the election. And then you can imagine the outcry of Trump and McConnell and all of those saying you're letting this thing go on past the election. So you cannot blame Adam Schiff. It's the president who resisted any of these witnesses coming. Schiff asked for them to come.
MARTIN: So what do you do now? I mean, to put forth any changes on the McConnell rules, you're going to need Republican support. Senator Mitt Romney had previously said he wanted to hear from people like former National Security Adviser John Bolton. On his website now, Senator Romney says he is satisfied with McConnell's resolution. Where are you going to get the votes?
SCHUMER: Well, he either hasn't read it or he's gone along with this cover up, which I hope that isn't true. We need four votes. We never expected them at the beginning before McConnell's resolution. They'll all go along with his resolution. But we will have amendments at the beginning because there is no resolution, so they can't block these amendments. And we will call for witnesses. We will call for documents. And we'll try to undo some of the most egregious things, like meeting at 2 in the morning, that McConnell has put in this resolution.
MARTIN: Which Republicans are you targeting?
SCHUMER: Well, I'm not going to go into names, but, look, you know that many of our Republican colleagues, not the ones who were just Trump all the way no matter what he does, but many of our Republican colleagues know what he did was very wrong, know that the president does not have a reputation for being the most honest and probity-oriented person. And our hope is that they will rise to the constitutional responsibility. When you sit there and see the chief justice sitting in the chair, when you hear the evidence as strong as it is, maybe some will. But we have a constitutional obligation to pursue this. If all these trials become a sham, Rachel, any impeachment trial becomes a sham, then the only power over a president other than election is gone. And that is a dramatic change in the Constitution, particularly with a president who is the most overreaching president that we have ever had.
MARTIN: Senator Chuck Schumer, we appreciate you making time for us this morning. Thank you.
SCHUMER: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell was listening into that conversation and joins me now. So, Kelsey, as you heard there, Senator Schumer, he may have been surprised by that notification that Senator Mitt Romney has decided that these rules are fine to him. I mean, where does Senator Schumer get these votes?
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, it - he sounded pretty clear there that he's not sure that he is going to get these votes. I think some of what is going to happen and what we're going to see happen in the amendment and throughout the entire process here is that Democrats need to be making a political case here, too, to voters, to people who are watching this trial go forward. When they know that they can't win on a certain amendment or calling a certain witness, they need to be able to pitch to the American public that it was unfair. They do have an election ahead of them. And part of the strategy here is they have to be able to speak to voters about, you know, what the choice is - the choice between Republicans and Democrats and what the makeup of the Senate could be - because there are a number of Republicans who are up in districts where it's not entirely certain that they will win. So this is not just a legal argument that we're going to see. There's also a political and public argument happening here.
MARTIN: Right. You've been poring over the legal briefs of both sides. What can you tell us about the arguments?
SNELL: Well, House Democrats are really expected to repeat a lot of the arguments that we heard during the entire process there. So things that we heard in the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, their brief largely reflects what we've heard there. Now...
MARTIN: Abuse of power, obstruction.
SNELL: Right. And the White House is arguing that abuse of power simply isn't an impeachable offense. And when it comes to the question of obstruction of Congress, they're saying that the House can't credibly call it an impeachable offense either because the House didn't go to court over the issue. They're basically saying that when there's an issue of separation of powers - when Congress is essentially saying the White House is going above and beyond the powers allotted to them in the Constitution, it's the job of the court to litigate that question, and Democrats didn't go to court over that.
MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thank you.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.