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Republicans focus on insults as Democrats open their case in Trump's Senate trial

Posted January 23, 2020 12:07 a.m. EST

— Detail by detail, the Democrats prosecuting the impeachment case against President Donald Trump laid out their arguments on Wednesday. They included:

How Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential Democratic rival in 2020;How Trump held up about $400 million in US military and security aid, breaking the law and defying congressional intent;How a White House meeting was dangled in front of the new Ukrainian President;How insiders like Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland knew there was a quid pro quo for the aid;How the Pentagon raised the alarm about the held aid;How recently released emails -- hidden from Congress by the Trump administration -- detail the effort to hold the aid against the better judgment of most of the government;How all of this also helped Russia, which tried to help get Trump elected.

Not all of these facts factor into the formal impeachment articles -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- that the Senate is considering, but the case, methodically laid out with video from the House impeachment hearings, is hard to deny.

Read: Our main report on the dayWatch: Wednesday's trial in 2 minutesListen: Did Schiff make his case?

Are Republican minds being changed?

Scott Jennings is a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and he laid out a very smart survey of what's going on for the GOP in the Senate chamber in an appearance on CNN.

His point, which I thought was so important I typed it up in full below, is that Republicans might be uncomfortable with what Trump did, but they're not likely to throw him out of office for it. And Democrats, he said, aren't helping their cause by insulting Republicans.

Here's the whole thing:

Some agree Trump exercised 'galatically bad judgment'

"I think there are Republicans in that room who have varying degrees of discomfort with what happened. I think some don't think it was a big deal, some are probably moderately alarmed and something it was a galactically bad judgment. And I think more may be thinking that.

But there are only two choices -- acquit or remove him from office

"But in this process there's just two choices, acquit the President or throw him out of office. And I think where Republicans are coming up short... are we really going to throw a President out of office for the first time in American history over this?

Accusing the GOP of a coverup or stealing the election won't help Democrats

"On the other side of the ledger, by the way, I'll tell you what I'm hearing out of Republicans down there, (Chuck) Schumer keeping the Senate in all night after complaining about 'Midnight Mitch' didn't go over well with the Republicans. Number two, (Jerry) Nadler accusing him of engaging in a cover-up definitely rankled Republicans and number three, (Adam) Schiff today also said, 'We have to throw the President out because he is going to steal the next election,' that effectively is what he said, which Republicans do not believe in."

Murkowski, a key vote, was offended

Proving Jennings' point, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate voice in the GOP, was bristling Wednesday at Nadler's accusation of a coverup.

"I took it as very offensive," she told Alaska Public Media. "As one who is listening attentively and working hard to get to a fair process, I was offended."

About coverups

Of course, since it would take 20 Republicans to remove Trump from office, don't forget that while Democrats say they had no principled choice but to impeach Trump, it's also always been extremely unlikely they get much or any support for removing him from office. And if they can't get any help subpoenaing documents from the administration, it's not the stupidest political decision to call this a coverup.

Repetitive arguments or hard truths?

Republicans like Texas Sen. John Cornyn complained the arguments were getting old.

"Senators are struggling to try to see why we have to sit here, sit hearing the same arguments over and over and over again."

'It's painful for them to keep hearing'

Democrats like Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said repetition is part of the point.

"He's calling it repetitive because they don't want to hear it," she said. "They really I think it's painful for them to keep hearing, how the President shook down the president of another country, and abused his power, and is engage in obstruction of congress."

She pointed out there's no new information in the arguments in part because Republicans blocked attempts to subpoena the White House, the State Department, the OMB and the Pentagon.

Hirono said what's already there "is damning enough."

Color from the restless chamber

Reporters are not allowed to take phones or other electronics into the Senate chamber. CNN's Jeremy Herb has been inside watching. Here are some of his notes:

At one point Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow noted the movement in the chamber and asked if the senators wanted a break, and he wasn't wrong -- there was a lot of walking around and empty seats. When Crow suggested a break, you could hear several "no's" from the senators.

Herb counted 25 vacant seats at one point during the afternoon, 11 on Democratic side and 15 on the Republican side. Most of the absences are brief trips to the cloakroom, or walks around the chamber to say hi to someone.

Several senators have taken to standing at their desks, hands on the top of their seats for support. The Democrats also were passing around a folded note that went to about 15-20 senators up and down several rows.

Catch up: Every dispatch through the day

Got precedent?

Along with the ban on electronics, there are severe restrictions on what senators can bring into the Senate chamber. In addition to water, senators have been seen slugging milk, which is the only other beverage they're allowed to drink on the Senate floor. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas enjoyed his with some chocolate. Yes, really.

Why milk?

CNN's Ted Barrett and Dana Bash report that according to Alan Frumin, the former Senate Parliamentarian and CNN contributor, a precedent from January 24, 1966, stated, "Senate rules do not prohibit a Senator from sipping milk during his speech."

Frumin said this is a "precedent" and not a formal rule of the Senate.

GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is a physician, said the practice started to ease senators suffering from peptic ulcer disease because "way back when, in the '50s" there was no treatment for the condition other than drinking milk.

The pictures you're not supposed to see

We'd show you pictures of the milk, but we can't.

The tight restrictions for press coverage of the hearing have been an issue, drawing outrage from the Washington press corps as the capitol has essentially been locked down. Reporters are hindered in where they can go in the building, where they normally roam relatively freely.

And in the Senate chamber, the Senate controls the cameras and only the person speaking can be shown. The one exception here are the courtroom sketches CNN has licensed from the artist Bill Hennessy.

And no, Marco Rubio didn't actually use a quill to take notes. But he did pose with it.

Senators can't speak, but they can pass notes

Just before Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts admonished counsel from both the impeachment and Trump teams in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Maine Sen. Susan Collins was seen handing a note up to the dais where he sits.

According to CNN's report, Collins was reluctant to acknowledge any contribution to the remarkable rebuke of the parties arguing the impeachment trial. When she came off the floor about 2 a.m. ET Wednesday, a reporter told her that she was seen handing a note up to the dais, to the parliamentarian, she replied coyly: "Who, me? I did that?"

Hunter Biden ordered to appear in Arkansas court

Some Republican senators continue to tease the idea they'll try to call Joe Biden's son Hunter as a witness at Trump's impeachment trial to answer questions about his role with the Ukrainian company Burisma -- the very thing Trump was pushing Zelensky to investigate.

Side note: Biden will be in court in Arkansas next week, where he's been ordered to appear as part of a child support case.

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