McConnell to GOP on impeachment rules: I have the votes

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump allies throw jabs at Bolton over book's claims GOP confident of win on witnesses Collins Senate bid threatens to spark GOP rift in Georgia MORE (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that “we have the votes” to pass an organizing resolution to start President’s Trump impeachment trial without requiring witness testimony.

“We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described maybe as a Phase One,” McConnell said.

McConnell told Republican senators he had the votes during a closed-door caucus lunch before he spoke publicly.

The Hill reported Monday night that McConnell had the votes after two GOP swing votes, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Trump's team rests, calls for quick end to trial MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP confident of win on witnesses Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight Trump's team rests, calls for quick end to trial MORE (Alaska), said they would back McConnell's position that the Senate should follow the precedent of the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Clinton and defer until later in the process the question of calling additional witnesses.

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Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenators ready for question time in impeachment trial Republicans show little enthusiasm for impeachment witness swap Bolton sparks internal GOP fight over witnesses MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters that the GOP leader confirmed he has the votes, but that "shouldn't be a surprise." 

"The leader has the votes to make it clear that the Clinton impeachment rules would be adopted by the Senate," Rounds said. 

 
"He has 51 [votes] for sure to set the impeachment trial using the Clinton model," Graham said of McConnell. "I think most Republicans believe this is a political stunt." 
 
Graham added that he did not hear opposition to McConnell's strategy during the closed-door caucus lunch, saying "most people feel pretty comfortable with the Clinton model."  

The question of hearing from additional witnesses was voted on in 1999 during the middle of Clinton’s trial.

The resolution passed at the start of the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial set forth time for the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team to present their opening arguments and for senators to submit questions in writing but made no specific requirement for additional witness testimony or document review. 

The Senate at the time chose to depose three witnesses via videotape, including former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose testimony was later played on a monitor on the Senate floor.

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McConnell said on Tuesday the first phase of the Trump trial would be similar, with both House impeachment managers and Trump's team presenting their opening arguments and questions from senators. 

"At that point during the Clinton trial, the issue of the appropriateness of calling witnesses was addressed; obviously that is the most contentious part of these proceedings. And that will be addressed at that time and not before the trial begins," McConnell said.  

The GOP leader declined to explain just how “similar” the organizing resolution for Trump’s trial will be to the resolution passed at the start of former President Clinton’s trial.

“We’re going to have a similar resolution. It may not be word-for-word exactly the same,” McConnell said. “We’ll be glad to show it to you when we unveil it.”

The announcement is a blow to Democrats who wanted one resolution at the outset that would establish both the rules for impeachment and include a specific deal on witnesses. 

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But they needed four Republicans to vote with them to get the 51 votes needed to require a deal on witnesses at the outset. 

Even though McConnell has the votes to force through his own impeachment rules, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawyer says Parnas can't attend Senate trial due to ankle bracelet Senate Democrats' super PAC raised million in 2019 As the mental health crisis grows, Puerto Ricans need long-term care MORE (D-N.Y.) pledged on Tuesday that Democrats will force votes at the start of the trial on calling impeachment witnesses. 

The rules resolution is amendable, allowing Democrats to try to shoehorn in language calling specific witnesses. McConnell will need, and appears to have, the 51 votes to shoot down any attempt by Democrats to change the language of a rules resolution to include witness.

"Make no mistake, on the question of witnesses and documents, Republicans may run but they can't hide. There will be votes at the beginning on whether to call the four witnesses we've proposed and subpoena the documents we've identified," Schumer said from the Senate floor. 

He added that "America and the eyes of history will be watching what my Republican colleagues do."
 
The Senate is still waiting for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to send over the articles of impeachment. 
 
The House passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump last month, one charging the president with abusing his power in his dealings with Ukraine and another alleging he obstructed Congress during its investigation of those actions.
 
But Pelosi has declined to say when she will transmit them, saying she wants more details on what the Senate trial will look like. A spokesman for Pelosi didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about the timeline for the impeachment articles' transmission. 
 
But McConnell said on Tuesday that he hopes Pelosi sends over the articles this week — something some Democrats have floated that she will do. 
 
"My hope is that the Speaker will send them on over," he said.