As impeachment trial begins, Arizonans play official, unofficial roles

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, in an October photo after House Republicans stormed a secure hearing room to protest the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. That outspoken support of Trump earned Lesko a role this week as one of eight House members tapped to defend the president. (Photo by Wissam Melhem/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Testimony in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began Tuesday, with at least two Arizonans looking on in unofficial capacities as senators engaged in an all-day debate of procedure.

On the floor, Arizona Sens. Martha McSally, a Republican, and Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, followed their parties as the GOP-controlled Senate rejected several Democratic attempts to call witnesses and subpoena new evidence for the trial.

Looking on were Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who was tapped by the White House on Monday to be part of the impeachment team defending the president, and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has repeatedly called on fellow Republicans to stand up to Trump.

The votes were part of a day of back-and-forth exchanges between lawyers for the president and Democrats from the House who are managing the impeachment trial that dragged late into the night, as the Senate worked to set ground rules for the trial.

Senators were debating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s resolution that called for days of testimony from both sides before deciding whether to subpoena any further witnesses to testify at the trial. Republicans argued that those were similar to rules used in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

But Democrats said the Clinton rules should not apply. The Clinton White House was more accessible, they said, while Trump has denied documents and ordered aides not to testify to House investigators, leading to the obstruction charge that is one of two articles of impeachment against him.

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They also claimed that more witnesses are willing to come forward, and accused Senate Republicans of participating in a “coverup” by denying the ability to call witnesses now.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer proposed a number of amendments, including proposals to subpoena White House, State Department and budget office records, as well as White House officials. After more than nine hours, all had been rejected on straight 53-47 party-line votes, but more were still coming.

When McConnell tried to speed up the votes, Schumer offered to break for the evening and continue Wednesday, but he said Democrats “will get a vote on all of these.”

“We will not back off on getting votes on all of these amendments, which we regard as extremely significant and important to the country,” he said.

Neither Sinema nor McSally responded to requests for comment Tuesday on the trial. Sinema had said last week that senators had “a job to do that demands our serious, careful consideration of the facts – free from partisanship or political soundbites.”

But Lesko was not so reticent.

Long a vocal supporter of the president’s, Lesko said the administration asked her to join seven other House Republicans who have “provided guidance to the White House team, which was prohibited from participating in the proceeding concocted by Democrats in the House of Representatives.” The statement from the White House said it expects the eight House members to “combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment.”

Lesko said Tuesday that the eight will not have a formal role in the proceedings, but have been tasked with “communicating the message about how the Democrats had an unfair process and how there is no crime that has been identified and that there is no impeachable offense.”

Arizona Sens. Krysten Sinema, left, a Democrat, and Martha McSally, a Republican, fell in line with their parties in the first Senate votes in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (Photos courtesy U.S. House of Representatives)

She was doing just that Tuesday, even though she said she was unable to watch most of the hearing due to meetings. Throughout the day, Lesko was active on Twitter, repeatedly criticizing Democrats for waiting a month to send impeachment articles to the Senate and for what she said was a House impeachment inquiry that was unfair to Republicans.

With the House in recess this week, Lesko was watching the proceedings from Arizona. But Flake was spotted in the Senate gallery watching some of the debate.

Flake has long been a critic of Trump, arguing in a Dec. 20 editorial in the Washington Post that, “If there ever was a time to put country over party, it is now. And by putting country over party, you might just save the Grand Old Party before it’s too late.”

On Monday, Flake said on “CBS This Morning” that Republican senators should carefully consider the call for more witnesses. Doing otherwise, he said, will have “long-term ramifications for the party if we act as if we are just devoted to the president no matter what,” in what he described a “cult of a personality.”

But Flake told USA Today on Tuesday that he was only stopping by while in Washington on other business. While he believes the president has done something wrong, he said he is not sure he would vote to remove him from office if he was still in the Senate.

Politics Reporter, Washington, D.C.