Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster'

Republicans are bracing for a high-stakes impeachment fight as soon as next month as a trial in the Senate looks all but inevitable.

With House Democrats wading deeper into their ongoing impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE's interactions with Ukraine, GOP senators expect the House will ultimately pass articles of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Video shows NYC subway station renamed after Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.) already confirmed the Senate would hold a trial if the House passes articles.

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Republicans are already studying up on the rules as they prepare for what will be a high-profile, politically charged showdown even as Trump is widely expected to avoid being convicted and removed from office by the Senate, an act that would require the approval of two-thirds of the closely divided chamber.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) acknowledged that senators will have to deal with impeachment and said that he was looking to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for guidance on the Senate’s rules.  

“I have a copy ordered from CRS. CRS has updated its white paper on impeachment. Probably in great demand right now,” he said. 

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill Charities scramble to plug revenue holes during pandemic Warren calls for Postal Service board members to fire DeJoy or resign MORE (R-Okla.) added Republicans had discussed the “process.” 

“For sure, all of us,” he added when asked if he was planning to brush up on rules as a likely trial grows closer. 

Trump’s impeachment trial would be the third for a president in Senate history after Andrew Johnson and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBattle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Bill Clinton on GOP push to fill Ginsburg vacancy: Trump, McConnell 'first value is power' MORE — both of whom were found not guilty.

But most senators will be handling their first trial as members of the chamber. 

Only fifteen senators were serving in the Senate during Clinton's trial, including McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRepublican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year MORE (D-N.Y.). 

“I think the process should be similar to what we had before,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP eyes early exit Dems discussing government funding bill into February GOP short of votes on Trump's controversial Fed pick MORE (R-Ala.), who was also in the Senate during the Clinton trial. “That’s a serious obligation because you’re thinking, ‘Well you’re really overturning an election.’ "

"I think people need to be focused and they need to do a right thing,” he added. 

House Democrats are aggressively pursuing an inquiry into Trump's request that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll GOP set to release controversial Biden report Can Donald Trump maintain new momentum until this November? MORE, a potential top rival in 2020. The focus of the potential articles of impeachment, or how many there would be, remains unclear.

But the creeping inevitability that the Senate will have to act follows weeks of speculation that McConnell could find a loophole to let the Senate avoid an impeachment trial that would otherwise eat up precious floor time and put some of his 2020 incumbents under a fierce spotlight. 

The GOP leader, however, shot down that possibility this week. Though McConnell positioned himself as a roadblock to Trump being removed from office in Facebook ads, he said this week that the Senate would fulfill its "constitutional responsibility."

“Under the impeachment rules of the Senate, we’ll take the matter up … We intend to do our constitutional responsibility.”

McConnell — along with Judiciary Committee staff and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Will Republicans' rank hypocrisy hinder their rush to replace Ginsburg? Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day MORE (R-S.C.), who was a floor manager during the Clinton impeachment trial — briefed the Senate GOP caucus during a closed-door lunch about what to expect if a trial comes to the Senate. 

“I think that was more of a kind of a 101 so that we weren’t all either not able to answer any questions or all answering them some different way,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Murkowski: Supreme Court nominee should not be taken up before election Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Mo.) said about the caucus briefing. 

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Under the chamber’s impeachment rules, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the chamber and senators will convene every day but Sunday. 

“Senators will not be allowed to speak, which will be good therapy for a number of them,” McConnell quipped to reporters after the closed-door caucus lunch.  

McConnell wasn’t the only GOP senator making jokes. Asked what the atmosphere would be like in the Senate during the impeachment trial, Blunt joked, “I’m thinking about banning the reporters.” 

But the particulars of the trial, including the length, remain up in the air. 

“We just talked about the Senate rules. We’re going to have to have more meetings to talk about how we proceed,” Kennedy said about the GOP briefing. 

Graham, asked what his message to the caucus was, said he warned his colleagues that it would be a "roller coaster."
 
McConnell told senators during the closed-door lunch that a potential timeline for impeachment would be that the House passes articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving, setting up the Senate to wrap up its trial by the end of the year.
 
That time frame would be similar to Clinton’s impeachment trial, which took five weeks.
 
 
“I have no idea. The path, the timeline will depend on the truth line, and that's what we're looking for,” she told reporters.
 
An impeachment trial could hit during a crucial stretch on the congressional calendar, potentially overshadowing legislation on government funding, Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, and a slate of other must-pass bills.
 
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. ... Senate impeachment uses up a lot of floor time. And so we’re trying to figure out how we can get that done, and get NAFTA 2.0 [USMCA] done, and get the budget done,” Kennedy said.
 
GOP senators are publicly questioning if they could still move legislation by coming in early each day before the formal start of the trial. And a senator reportedly asked during the GOP lunch if the Senate could dismiss the articles of impeachment without going through a trial.
 
Under the Senate’s impeachment rules the managers could make a motion to dismiss the articles, though it’s unclear why Democrats would try to quickly dismiss articles that just passed the House.
 
Blunt added that most senators were expecting the Senate’s work on impeachment to go through a trial and end with a vote on whether or not to remove Trump from office.
 
“We have to deal with it, and we have to deal with it as soon as the managers are designated and present themselves and we have to stay on it until we’re done,” he said.
 
“I think we all anticipate … the process would end with the other vote, which is the final vote … on impeachment that produces a result or not,” he continued.
 
Senators in both parties say they hope McConnell and Schumer will sit down and come up with a deal to establish some guardrails for a potential impeachment trial, including the length of the Senate proceeding.
 
Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell focuses on confirming judicial nominees with COVID-19 talks stalled Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Top GOP senator calls for Biden to release list of possible Supreme Court picks MORE (D-Ill.) noted that during the Clinton impeachment there was an “early meeting” between party leaders that “went a long way for setting the tone, and I hope we can do the same.”
 
Asked if he was concerned McConnell could try to hamper Democrats, he added: “I think he’s made enough public statements now to lead me to believe that he’s going to follow the regular order.”
 
Schumer agreed during a press conference with reporters that it would be “prudent” for him and the GOP leader to sit down and hammer out the structure.
 
“We have to do this in a fair and bipartisan way,” Schumer said. “And I hope that Leader McConnell would obey those scriptures.”