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Start to Senate impeachment trial devolves into partisanship

Image: Mitch McConnel
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exits the Senate Chamber during U.S. President Donald Trump's Senate Impeachment Trial in Washington, on Jan. 21, 2020. Copyright Tom Brenner Reuters
Copyright Tom Brenner Reuters
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — If you want to see just how dysfunctional and partisan the U.S. Senate has become in the span of 20 years, just consider these two different votes.

In 1999, during Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, the Senate passed its organizing resolution by a 100-0 vote, after leaders Trent Lott and Tom Daschle struck a deal about how the chamber should conduct the trial.

"I knew the votes were not there, and were never going to be there, to remove Bill Clinton, so what I had to figure out working with Tom was how do we fulfill our constitutional responsibility in a respectable way," Lott told NPR last month.

But late last night, around 2:00 a.m. ET, the Senate voted 53-47 — along strict party lines — to approve the organizing resolution for the impeachment trial into President Trump, after Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer were unable to do what Lott and Daschle did 21 years ago.

Yesterday even included an admonishment from Chief Justice John Roberts, who scolded House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team over their sharp exchanges.

"I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said.

When McConnell yesterday talked about the importance and sanctity of the "Clinton Rules," maybe the most important part of those roles was the 100 percent agreement from the GOP and Democratic leaders how the impeachment trial should be conducted, to make the process as fair as possible.

A party-line vote — on procedure — isn't going to convince anyone out there that the process is fair. And that's on the leaders, especially the one with the title "majority leader."

Other observations about yesterday/last night:

  • The House Democratic impeachment managers were aware of their audience — the American public — and they focused their presentation on the substance of the Ukraine scandal, while the GOP's defense team focused more on procedure.
  • McConnell found the limits from his GOP caucus, given that he had to retreat on just two days of arguments from both sides (it's now three), and not allowing the admission of evidence without a vote (the House evidence will now be admitted automatically unless there's an objection).
  • Still, McConnell and the GOP got the overall rules they wanted to assure a relatively speedy trial.

Impeachment trial update: The prosecution's opening arguments are set to begin

The impeachment trial of President Donald John Trump resumes today at 1:00 p.m. ET, per NBC's Kasie Hunt, Frank Thorp and the rest of the NBC Capitol Hill team.

And on the agenda are the opening arguments by the House Democratic impeachment managers.

Here's a quick look at the timeline:

Yesterday: procedural jousting over the organizing resolution; rules passed around 2:00 a.m. ET

Today: prosecution opening arguments, 8 hours

Thursday: prosecution, 8 hours

Friday: prosecution, 8 hours

Saturday: White House defense, 8 hours

Sunday: off


Monday: White House defense, 8 hours

Tuesday: White House defense, 8 hours

Wednesday: Senators' questions

Thursday: Senators' questions

Friday: Senators' questions


Saturday: Vote on witnesses?

Sunday: off

Monday: Iowa caucuses

Tuesday: State of the Union

Tweet of the day

Bloomberg provides impeachment air cover to Democrats

In yesterday's First Read, we noted how Democrats are being outgunned over the airwaves on impeachment.


Of the 11 impeachment-themed political TV ads airing right now, according to Advertising Analytics, all are by Republicans and GOP groups.

Until now.

Michael Bloomberg's campaign on Tuesday began airing a TV ad tied to the impeachment trial in 27 states, including in 2020 Senate battlegrounds like Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan and North Carolina, per NBC's Ali Vitali.

"It's time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office," Bloomberg says in the ad. "And if they won't do their job, this November you and I will."

Bloomberg is doing what the rest of the party isn't — at least over the airwaves.


2020 Vision: Iowa observations from Katy Tur

MSNBC's Katy Tur spent Tuesday on the campaign trail in Iowa and shares some of her observations:

In Cedar Rapids, Pete Buttigieg drew 1,200 people for an evening rally on a weekday night. The campaign touted it as the biggest turnout for any Democratic candidate in the town so far. At this point, no other candidate has Cedar Rapids on their schedule; Bernie Sanders had a rally planned for Wednesday, but had to cancel.

One voter told Tur she walked into the event undecided, but picked Buttigieg in that room after hearing him speak. How many of those voters are the senators losing out on?

In an exclusive pull-aside with Buttigieg, Tur asked him about his open lane in Iowa, infighting among Democrats, how Democrats' crowds compare to those of Trump, and about all of those undecided voters.

Earlier, in Ames, Joe Biden drew a decidedly smaller crowd of around 100 people. Biden got most fired up when talking about how he won't hold a grudge against other Republicans because he has to work with them. On the rope line, Tur asked Biden if he was watching the impeachment trial in Washington. His answer was no. But his team is paying attention.


On the campaign trail today

The non-senator campaign activity is once again in Iowa: Joe Biden stumps in Mason City and Osage… Pete Buttigieg holds a town hall in Dubuque before heading to DC to raise money… And Andrew Yang and John Delaney hold multiple events across the Hawkeye State… Elsewhere, Tulsi Gabbard remains in New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds

In Iowa yesterday, Pete Buttigieg was trying to close the deal by calling for respect, NBC's Priscilla Thompson reports. "Speaking about the campaign's 'Rules of the Road, Buttigieg emphasized 'respect,' a seeming nod to the swipes some candidates have been taking at one another. 'I mean it should, should go without saying, but especially as we accelerate into the heat of competition among our fellow Democrats and beyond, we got to respect one another,' he said. 'Respect everyone we meet respect the office, respect our competitors and their supporters, and we will continue to make that a centerpiece of what holds this campaign together.'"

And Joe Biden has flipped on what had been a cardinal rule: to not criticize the president when he's abroad. Throughout the campaign trail, Biden has consistently supported the idea that "politics ends at water's edge," but he took a veiled swipe at the president in Iowa, NBC's Marianna Sotomayor reports. "'The president is speaking at Davos, an international conference which I've spoken at a number of times,' Biden said, 'Saying that he thinks it's an exaggeration to scare people and to take away people's jobs. Woah. No global warming, not happening, don't worry, the environment is fine, guys. This is normal.'" The president arrived in Switzerland yesterday to attend the economic forum.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $3.8 million

$3.8 million.

That's the total ad spending in Iowa from the pro-Biden Super PAC Unite the County through Caucus Day, according to Advertising Analytics.


Combined with the $4.1 million total that Biden's campaign is planning to spend in the state, that's nearly $8 million in pro-Biden ads airing in the Hawkeye State.

Here's how that compares with the total spending that other campaigns are planning through Caucus Day.

Total ad spending in Iowa as of today — PLUS booked time through February 3, according to Advertising Analytics:

  • Tom Steyer: $14.2 million
  • Bernie Sanders: $10.3 million
  • Pete Buttigieg: $9.4 million
  • Elizabeth Warren: $5.9 million
  • Andrew Yang: $5.8 million
  • Joe Biden: $4.1 million
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden Super PAC): $3.8 million
  • Amy Klobuchar: $2.9 million
  • Michael Bennet: $1.1 million

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Joe Biden's campaign is out with a new video outlining Biden's work to back anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and using some salty language to describe President Trump's telling of the same tale.

Hillary Clinton is walking back comments in which she appeared to hesitate to endorse Sanders if he's the Democratic nominee.


Jonathan Allen writes that Trump's defense looked a little shaky yesterday.

Chief Justice John Roberts had to remind impeachment managers and lawyers last night to "remember where they are" after some testy exchanges on the floor.

Miss the proceedings yesterday? Here's what you need to know about how the Senate voted to move forward with the trial.

This is a strange story with BIG potential consequences: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos allegedly had his phone hacked in 2018 after receiving a WhatsApp message from the Saudi Crown Prince.

Trump Agenda: "I would rather go the long way"

Trump said in Davos that he'd rather have a long trial than a short one.


Senate Democrats are weighing the idea of trading one witness for another: Hunter Biden for John Bolton.

Where is Mike Pence in all this?

Trump is threatening new tariffs for European allies.

A new poll on abortion finds that the American public appears to be a little confused on some aspects of the issue.

2020: The campaigners versus the jurors

It's a split screen for the senators running for president, who are stuck on "jury duty" with less than two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses.


Behind the scenes, Bernie Sanders is urging allies to use restraint after a broadside from Hillary Clinton.

A pro-Trump group is taking aim at Doug Jones over impeachment.

Elizabeth Warren has hired two former top aides to Julian Castro.

Four more black lawmakers have endorsed Biden.

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