McConnell takes round one in impeachment battle
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has won round one of the Senate impeachment fight, announcing Tuesday that he has the votes to adopt rules that do not require additional witnesses and key documents despite the strong objections of Democrats.
McConnell did not lose support from a single member of his conference in the standoff with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has warned that GOP senators would be “participating in a cover-up” if they don’t vote for subpoenas of key Trump advisers such as former national security adviser John Bolton at the trial’s outset.
Now the pressure is on Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, even though there isn’t a bipartisan deal on how to proceed.
“We have the votes,” McConnell told reporters triumphantly after meeting with Republican colleagues over lunch.
The GOP leader spent part of the holiday recess reaching out to colleagues to talk to them about the upcoming impeachment trial, according to GOP senators.
His strategy was to build a unified Republican front to withstand Democratic demands that the organizing resolution for Trump’s trial guarantee that Bolton and three other witnesses — acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House adviser Robert Blair and senior Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey — testify.
His three toughest challenges lay with moderate Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who have criticized Trump’s conduct in recent months to varying degrees.
All three moderates said Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning that it would be appropriate to pass an organizing resolution along the lines of what the Senate adopted 100-0 at the start of former President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.
McConnell told colleagues at lunch Tuesday that he had the votes to roll Democrats on an impeachment resolution.
He later said it was “impossible” to pick up Democratic support for an organizing resolution because “they refused to treat President Trump the same way we treated President Clinton.”
“What was good enough for President Clinton at an impeachment trial should have been good enough for President Trump,” he added. “All we’re doing here is saying we’re going to get started in exactly the same way that 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago.”
McConnell told reporters Tuesday that Republicans will pass an organizing resolution “very similar” to what started the Clinton trial but declined to provide further details.
The Clinton resolution made it in order to consider and debate a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment as well as motions to subpoena witnesses and present additional evidence.
“It may not be word-for-word exactly the same,” McConnell acknowledged Tuesday.
Schumer responded by vowing to make GOP senators pay a price by forcing them to vote on the question of witnesses and additional evidence when they debate the first organizing resolution.
He said he would raise the issue of subpoenas again later in the trial.
“The question looms: Will senators stand up for a fair trial, a fair trial with witnesses and documents?” Schumer said after meeting with colleagues at lunch. “Whoever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents?”
Schumer said that while McConnell has stayed in lockstep with the president, “many of his colleagues are very, very worried about going home and saying they’re not for witnesses and documents.”
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin on Tuesday released polling showing that 67 percent of voters in six Senate battleground states — Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire and North Carolina — say they want the Senate to conduct a full trial and carefully consider the evidence on both sides.
The Democratic leader said he would insist on voting to subpoena Bolton, Mulvaney, Blair and Duffey as well as several sets of documents.
“We will have the ability at the beginning of the trial, and as we go through it, to get votes and we’re going to get them,” Schumer said.
Schumer said he had asked McConnell three separate times to allow witnesses and additional documents at the trial and received rejections all three times.
“McConnell will not allow any votes,” Schumer said. “I’ve asked him, ‘What about witnesses and documents?’ He’s rejected it.”
McConnell’s ability to unify his conference now puts the ball in Pelosi’s court. She said last month that she did not want to name impeachment managers until she knew the rules of the Senate trial.
There are signs that some Democrats are growing impatient to begin the trial now that the rules for its start have at least 51 votes.
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who faces a tough reelection this year in a pro-Trump state, said Tuesday that he hopes the impeachment articles will come to the Senate soon and that his colleagues are ready to hear arguments from both sides.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who privately warned colleagues last month against playing games with the articles of impeachment, said he thinks Pelosi will move soon.
“I can’t tell you what her timetable will be. I think the House is returning this afternoon, I hope she’ll consider it this week,” he said.
Republicans say Pelosi no longer has a reason to delay the trial.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) circulated a resolution at the Senate GOP Tuesday lunch urging Pelosi to send over the articles of impeachment.
“What she’s doing is out of step with past precedent and an affront to the Senate,” Graham said. “It’s not her job to set the trial.”
Graham said that most GOP senators view Pelosi’s decision to delay the articles as a “political stunt.”
But Democrats say Pelosi’s stratagem has already paid political dividends.
“She’s already accomplished two things which we fully support. One, Mitch McConnell couldn’t do what some thought he might want to do: right before Christmas or right after Christmas, [vote] to dismiss [the articles of impeachment],” Schumer said.
He said holding the articles of impeachment has allowed key developments to put more pressure on Republican swing votes.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Pelosi has put a public spotlight on McConnell in a way that will help Democrats.
“Sen. McConnell would have proceeded directly into the trial. We would not be having this conversation about the importance of calling witnesses and documents,” he said.
Jordain Carney contributed.