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Impeachment trial enters the question-and-answer session: a guide

Posted January 29, 2020 7:14 a.m. EST

— The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET, kicking off the question and answer portion that will last up to a total of 16 hours over the next two days.

Senators have had to sit in silence, without electronics, listening as the House managers made their case for Trump's removal and the President's lawyers argued for his acquittal. Now is the time for them to ask any questions they've compiled in their notes over the last seven trial days. While senators still won't be allowed to actually speak, their handwritten questions will be read aloud for them by Chief Justice John Roberts.

How will the question and answer portion of the Senate trial work?

On both Wednesday and Thursday -- for up to eight hours each day -- senators will submit written questions to be answered by the House managers and the President's defense lawyers on a range of trial issues. Republicans and Democrats will alternate asking questions.

Senators are able to direct their questions to either the managers or the defense counsel. But Republicans may direct many of their questions to the counsel to help bolster the President's case while Democrats may direct many of their questions to the House managers to help bolster theirs.

How will the questions be organized?

Senators submitted their questions in advance by email so they could be organized by their leaders, but they will be written on a special Senate question form before they are presented to the Chief Justice.

The questions will be delivered by pages to the dais where Roberts will read them aloud.

Here's the official question form that will be handed to Roberts.

Republican and Democratic leaders have also worked with their caucuses to cull the questions to ensure they are not repetitive and are organized by subject matter in an effort to keep the debate focused. If senators have similar questions, they may be asked to co-sponsor them. There may be some bipartisan questions too.

A GOP aide said they expect to get through 10-12 questions before taking the first break on Wednesday.

How much time will senators have to ask questions?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hopeful Tuesday that senators could follow the example of the Clinton trial when "senators were thoughtful and brief with their questions and the managers and counsel were succinct in their answer."

How much time will the managers and lawyers have to respond to each question?

The House managers and Trump's lawyers will have five minutes to respond to each senator question, a time limit former Chief Justice William Rehnquist set in place during the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999.

Aides say they don't expect a hard clock to enforce the five minutes, and that some answers might run longer and others shorter.

What's next after the question and answer period of the trial concludes?

After the questions and answer period ends Thursday evening, there will be four hours of debate, equally divided between the two sides, to argue on the question of whether to "subpoena witnesses or documents."

The trial organizing resolution says these arguments will be "followed by deliberation of the Senate, if so ordered under the impeachment rules." Senators and aides are a bit blurry as to exactly how or if these deliberations might take place, since senators aren't allowed to speak on the floor during the trial.

Senators might vote to go into closed session, but leaders in both parties have said they don't want to stay in public session as much as possible. We should learn more in the coming days.

When's the vote on whether to call witnesses?

The big vote on whether to compel witnesses and documents likely will occur Friday, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Tuesday.

If they don't vote to extend the trial by having witnesses, there could be votes on some other motions, which we don't know the content of yet, before senators move to final deliberations on the impeachment articles.

Because there are so many variables, it's hard to accurately predict when the final votes on the impeachment articles will take place. It could be Saturday or Monday or later if senators decide to deliberate for a lengthy period.

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