The Senate’s historic trial of President Trump begins in earnest with a bitter fight.
The Senate convened shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday to start in earnest the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump, who faces charges that he abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress. Senators were warned that they had to remain quiet, a skill that they rarely exercise in the Senate chamber, or face imprisonment.
The first order of business was a debate over the format of the trial, a draft of which Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, released on Monday. Democrats spent the morning lashing out against Mr. McConnell’s plan, accusing him and other Republicans of trying to cover up Mr. Trump’s actions.
Unlike most other debates in the Senate, the members of the chamber members won’t be doing the debating. Instead, the seven House impeachment managers, who are serving as prosecutors in the case, and Mr. Trump’s legal defense team will argue over the rules that will govern the trial. The first round of the debate is expected to last two hours.
Around 12:30 p.m., Mr. McConnell spoke from the Senate floor and argued that there was no reason the vote on the rules should be partisan. He said the outcome of the vote would answer important questions for the country: “Can the Senate still serve our founding purpose?” he said. “Can we still put fairness, even-handedness and historical precedent ahead of the partisan passions of the day?”
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, delivered remarks after Mr. McConnell and said the proposed plan amounted to a partisan effort to cover up Mr. Trump’s crimes.
Democrats are appalled by McConnell’s plan for the trial.
For weeks, Mr. McConnell, who has significant control over how the trial unfolds, has said Mr. Trump’s trial would be modeled after the Senate’s only modern precedent, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999.
But Mr. McConnell’s proposal had some significant differences, including a provision that would speed up the time allowed for opening arguments. It would also allow admitting the records generated by the House impeachment inquiry into evidence only if a majority of senators agree to doing so. In the Clinton trial, those records were admitted automatically.
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of New York and one of seven House impeachment managers who will argue for impeaching President Trump during the Senate trial, said Tuesday that a key element of the rules for Mr. Clinton’s trial was that they were agreed on by the Senate’s top Republican and Democrat.
Mr. McConnell’s Democratic counterpart, Mr. Schumer of New York, was not consulted.
Democrats have also pushed for the trial rules to allow for calling witnesses and admitting new documents into evidence. Mr. McConnell’s plan would have the Senate first vote on whether they want to consider new evidence at all. If a majority of senators agreed to do so, then they would vote on admitting specific witnesses or documents individually.
Mr. Schiff said what Mr. McConnell had offered did “not describe the process for a fair trial.”
Mr. Schumer said the first amendment he planned to offer to Mr. McConnell’s rules would require the Senate to subpoena White House documents related to the charges against Mr. Trump.
As his trial progresses, President Trump is boasting about the American economy in Switzerland.
While the Senate braced for hours of debate over the format of Mr. Trump’s trial, the president met with world leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he trumpeted the strong American economy, heaping praise upon himself.
When Mr. Trump was asked a question about the impeachment trial, taking place thousands of miles away, he said, “That whole thing is a hoax.”
The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said Mr. Trump’s staff would brief him about the happenings on Capitol Hill throughout the day.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, whose call with President Trump led to the whistle-blower complaint that jump-started the impeachment inquiry, is also at the Davos forum. It was unclear if the two world leaders would meet at some point.
While impeachment loomed large over Mr. Trump and his aides, the president’s economic policies drew a favorable response among the wealthy audience at Davos, many of whom were wary of what a progressive Democrat taking over the Oval Office could mean for them.