Senate leaders punt impeachment trial deal until after holidays

The Senate is set to leave town for the year without a deal on key components of President Trump’s impeachment trial, including whether to have witnesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) met Thursday just hours before the chamber is expected to wrap up its work for 2019.

But the two leaders signaled after the meeting that they did not reach an agreement on witnesses or requests for additional documents — two key sticking points for Democrats.

McConnell said that they had a “cordial” conversation but described negotiations as at an “impasse” as the impeachment trial looms.

“As of today, however, we remain at an impasse because my friend, the Democratic leader, continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump,” McConnell said on Thursday evening. “We remain at an impasse on these logistics.”

Schumer declined to comment as he left the Capitol, but Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said the Democratic leader asked McConnell to “consider Sen. Schumer’s proposal over the holidays.”

“Senator Schumer made clear to Sen. McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate,” Goodman said in a statement. “Sen. Schumer asked Sen. McConnell to consider Sen. Schumer’s proposal over the holidays because Sen. Schumer and his caucus believe the witnesses and documents are essential to a fair Senate trial.” 

The two leaders have been at a stalemate over the specifics of the Senate’s trial.

Schumer and his caucus are asking for four witnesses in the impeachment trial, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. He also wants the Senate to pass one resolution that governs both process and specific witnesses, instead of two separate resolutions as occurred during the Clinton trial in 1999.

“Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath? If the House’s case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?” Schumer said from the Senate floor earlier Thursday.

McConnell, however, has indicated that he does not want any witnesses. He also wants to pass two separate resolutions on process and potential witnesses, similar to the Clinton trial.

“I continue to believe that the unanimous bipartisan precedent that was good enough for President Clinton ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair,” McConnell said on Thursday night.

During Clinton’s impeachment trial, senators voted 100-0 on a resolution laying out the process for a trial, but a vote on a subsequent resolution calling for specific witnesses broke down along party lines.

The decision to punt comes after a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiating on Thursday. In addition to the McConnell-Schumer meeting, Schumer also met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Pelosi threw a curveball into the impeachment timeline when she declined to providing timing on when — or even if — Democrats will deliver the articles to the Senate.

“We’ll make that decision as a group, as we always have, as we go along,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

The House late Wednesday passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, making him the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. One charged Trump with abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and the second with obstructing Congress during its investigation of those actions.

House Democrats left for the year on Thursday with the next votes scheduled for Jan. 7, meaning they will not be able to transmit articles or appoint mangers before then.

McConnell knocked House Democrats for waffling about when to send the articles to the Senate, calling it a “very unusual spectacle” and accused Pelosi of trying to “hem and haw” about the fate of the articles.

“I admit I’m not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want,” McConnell said. “So we’ll see, we’ll see whether House Democrats ever want to work up the courage.”

Under the chamber’s rules the Senate trial will start the day after the House sends the articles of impeachment to the chamber, unless that day is a Sunday.

McConnell told GOP senators during a closed-door lunch Tuesday that they should expect an announcement on a trial date by Friday.

But three GOP senators told The Hill as they left the Senate’s final vote on Thursday that they still did not know when they were supposed to return to Washington after the holiday recess.

McConnell announced that the Senate would return on Jan. 3, but that the first roll call votes were not going to be until Jan. 6.

“For the information of all of our colleagues, the Senate will convene on Friday, Jan. 3, to kick off the second session of the 116th Congress. However, no roll call votes are expected that day and members should be prepared to be back and voting on Monday, Jan. 6,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

— Updated at 6:35 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Impeachment John Bolton Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi

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