McConnell tells GOP senators to expect impeachment trial next week
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Republicans during a closed-door lunch on Thursday to expect President Trump’s impeachment trial to start next week.
Three GOP senators said the Republican leader warned lawmakers during the caucus meeting that they should not expect to be able to go home next weekend, indicating that the long-delayed trial will be underway.
Proceedings have been held up while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has refused to send over the House-passed articles of impeachment, but she told reporters earlier Thursday that she would “soon” do so.
“We thought, we as the body, that the Speaker will … shortly send that over, so [he] said next weekend don’t go anywhere,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), characterizing McConnell’s message as a heads-up that the Senate would be in session.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added that McConnell told senators that the two articles would be sent over “soon,” expecting them in the “next day or two.”
“There’s no reason for us to stay this weekend, but don’t expect to be home next weekend was the basic message,” Cramer added after the closed-door caucus lunch.
Once Pelosi sends the articles over, the trial would start the next day at 1 p.m. The Senate would then be in session for six days a week, excluding Sunday, until they wrap what is expected to be a weeks-long process. The six-day work week will be a shift for senators, who normally come into town on Monday night and leave by Thursday afternoon.
“I’m not holding them indefinitely,” Pelosi had said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “I’ll send them over when I’m ready, and that will probably be soon.”
Senators have largely been left in the dark about when to expect Pelosi to send over the two articles, which passed the chamber largely along party lines last month.
Asked about McConnell’s comments, a spokesman said the GOP leader’s guidance was not based on conversations with Pelosi.
McConnell’s remarks to senators come after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) raised eyebrows by telling Fox News’s Sean Hannity, without explanation, that he expects the trial to start next week.
“Hats off to Mitch McConnell for playing this very well. We’ll take the trial up next week,” Graham said on Wednesday night.
Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and John Cornyn (Texas), members of GOP leadership, both confirmed McConnell’s comments during the closed-door caucus but cautioned that they had also expected the standoff between Pelosi and McConnell to already be over.
“It’s an assumption of what we believe will happen,” Blunt said. “I believe we’re believing, as we believed last weekend, that these documents are about to come over.”
The timing of the trial, just weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses, could pose a challenge for the five senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination: Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said this week that the party could reschedule the year’s first primary debate — currently set for Tuesday — if it conflicts with trial proceedings.
Speculation about when the articles will come over follows McConnell’s announcement earlier this week that he has the 51 votes to set up the Senate impeachment rules without Democratic support and punt a decision on documents and witnesses until mid-trial.
Pelosi reiterated on Thursday that she wants more details on the parameters of an impeachment trial from McConnell.
“We need to see the arena in which we are sending our managers. Is that too much to ask?” Pelosi said.