McConnell: Senate could pass partisan rules package for impeachment trial

Senate Majority Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said that if he’s unable to reach a deal with Democrats to set the rules for a Senate impeachment trial then he will try to to do so solely with GOP votes.

A Senate trial is expected to last as long as five or six weeks, depending on how much time the resolution allows House impeachment managers to make their case and the president's defense team to offer a rebuttal.

McConnell said he’ll try to negotiate a deal with Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLouisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill MORE (D-N.Y.) but that if it fails he’ll try to muster 51 votes in the Senate Republican Conference to set the rules of the trial.

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“It would depend on what we could agree to,” McConnell told reporters when asked if he would prefer to reach a bipartisan deal to set the parameters of the trial.

“That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say, ‘OK, can 51 of us agree [on] how we’re going to handle this?’” McConnell said.

But McConnell acknowledged that he may not even have 51 votes in his own conference on the measure that determines how much time the impeachment managers and the defense will have to present their cases and what witnesses, if any, will be called to the Senate floor. 

McConnell said that if he and Schumer fail to reach a deal and there aren’t 51 Republican votes for a rules package then there would be a freewheeling series of votes on various motions, ranging from the management of floor time to summoning witnesses.

“My assumption is once you heard the arguments on both sides, motions would be made. My suspicion is the chief justice would not want to rule on those. He would submit them to the Senate, and 51 of us would decide on a case-by-case basis how to go forward,” McConnell said.

The scenarios laid out by the GOP leader signal skepticism within the Senate that there would be the same bipartisan agreement on how to proceed as there was before the 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Clinton. 

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The Senate voted 100-0 in January 1999 on a resolution setting out the rules for Clinton’s trial.

Senate leadership at the time — Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and the late Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) — put together the compromise after meeting with colleagues in the Old Senate Chamber, according to Lott, who described the process to The Hill earlier this year.

McConnell said he recently refreshed his memory of past Senate trials by reading the book “Impeachment: An American History,” anticipating the House will soon pass articles of impeachment.

McConnell on Tuesday said it’s too early to predict how the Senate trial will play out, explaining there are “myriad” options. 

“There is no answer at this point,” he added. “We don’t even know if we’re going to get it yet. It looks like we’ll get something,” referring to House-passed articles of impeachment.