End of impeachment trial to leave deep scars in Senate
The bruising battle over President Trump’s impeachment will come to an end Wednesday afternoon, and senators who have clashed for weeks over trial procedures say it will leave deep scars that may take months to heal.
Former President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial was an intensely divisive affair, but senators say Trump’s trial has set a new standard for partisan warfare in a chamber once known for its collegiality.
The Senate is scheduled to vote at 4 p.m. Wednesday on two articles of impeachment, with every Republican expected to vote for acquittal. However, the votes of three centrist Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) — remain up in the air.
But even if all three vote to convict, Democrats will fall far short of the 67 votes needed to remove Trump from office. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key moderate, announced Tuesday afternoon that she would vote against both articles of impeachment, calling the second Senate trial of a sitting president in just 21 years a trend that “reflects the increasingly acrimonious partisanship facing our nation.”
Her announcement wasn’t surprising to Democrats, who argued last week that a largely partisan vote defeating a motion to call additional witnesses and documents was evidence that Republicans weren’t interested in conducting a fair trial. Collins was one of only two Republicans who voted with Democrats to review additional evidence.
“The Republicans refused to get the evidence because they were afraid of what it would show and that’s all that needs to be said,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of wanting to impeach Trump ever since he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a stunning 2016 upset.
“This fever led to the most rushed, least fair, and least thorough presidential impeachment inquiry in American history,” he said on the Senate floor.
Democrats are fuming over what they characterized as McConnell’s thoroughly partisan and unfair handling of the trial.
“McConnell clearly just cares about power. McConnell doesn’t care about this institution,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Republicans countered that Schumer approached the trial as a partisan fight from the start. They pointed to his decision to immediately make public a letter to McConnell asking for four witnesses to testify at the trial and a marathon series of votes he forced until 2 a.m. before opening arguments were set to begin.
“I’m a pretty optimistic person. I’m pretty upbeat. And I feel pretty dejected about where we are right now as a Congress and as a country. I’m just not in a very uplifted mood,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Tuesday.
On Friday, the Senate spent the day wrangling over a resolution to set the schedule for the trial’s end. Senators also defeated a motion to debate subpoenas for additional witnesses and documents, with Murkowski calling it “the worst day ever.”
The Alaska Republican and many other GOP senators said they were turned off by what they considered aggressive tactics by Democrats, such as accusing Republicans of a “cover-up” if they voted against calling witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton.
“The Senate should be ashamed by the rank partisanship that has been on display,” Murkowski said on the floor Monday.
“We cannot be the greatest deliberative body when we kick things off by issuing letters to the media instead of coming together to set the parameters of the trial and negotiate in good faith how we should proceed,” she added, alluding to Schumer’s letter to McConnell in December.
Democrats on Tuesday shot back, arguing Republicans were afraid of Trump and retreated in fear of being targeted by one of the president’s infamous tweets.
While Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted that “the polarization is tearing us apart,” he said it wasn’t a reason to vote against hearing from additional witnesses and reviewing key documents at an impeachment trial.
“Give me a break,” he said.
“You can’t blame it on this vague, amorphous phenomenon of lack of collegiality. She had a decision and she decided to buckle under to the president and Leader McConnell. I think history will judge her harshly,” Blumenthal said.
Other Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of being too scared of Trump to vote their conscience.
“They have let their political party become the party of Trump. Whether they know better, whether they’re scared to death, whether they don’t care, whether they’re all going to retire with their pensions, I don’t know,” said Brown.
And while the trial is nearly over, both parties are vowing to fight on.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said his committee will continue to investigate Ukraine’s possible intervention in the 2016 campaign, an allegation that Democrats have panned as Russian propaganda, as well as the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, has called for an investigation of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
House Democrats, who have subpoena power, plan to continue their investigations of Trump and his administration.
Senators remarked on the rift between McConnell and Schumer during the trial and how little talk there was between Republicans and Democrats in general.
With the center aisle creating a gulf between the two parties, Senate Democrats spent much of the trial scanning the faces of their GOP colleagues in hopes of gleaning some hints from their expressions and body language.
McConnell and Schumer weren’t spotted talking together on the Senate floor until Friday afternoon, after the Democratic leader threatened to make the chamber debate a second organizing resolution into the wee hours of the night by forcing multiple motions to close the Senate doors for deliberations.
“I think they need to go out for dinner or something,” said one Republican senator, who was left shaking his head over the lack of collegiality between McConnell and Schumer.
Senators who sat as jurors in the 1999 Clinton trial said the relations between then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) were much better.
“There was much more openness at that time and more open conversation,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Senators gathered privately in the Old Senate Chamber before the Clinton trial and emerged with a bipartisan deal that passed 100-0, establishing the rules for the proceedings.
Democrats complain that McConnell refused to negotiate with Schumer on the organizing resolution for the trial and didn’t reveal what the rules would be until the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, giving them almost no heads-up about what to expect.
When the resolution was released, Democrats discovered to their anger that the House impeachment managers would have to cram 24 hours’ worth of arguments into two days, forcing them to speak late into the night.
McConnell later relented, to allow the House managers and Trump’s lawyers three days each after getting pushback from moderate Republicans.
Democrats were also upset that Republicans broke with precedent by not allowing any witnesses to testify, something that had been allowed in the other two Senate impeachment trials. President Andrew Johnson’s 1868 impeachment trial included testimony from 41 witnesses, while three witnesses testified at Clinton’s trial.
Senators say the viciousness of the fighting surrounding Trump’s trial could be a sign of worse things to come, or it could mark rock bottom for bipartisan relations with better times ahead.
“There are two roads: One is this is another step down a very dark stairway to a very bad ending and the other is, as Sen. Murkowski proposed, that with this we will have hit bottom and a concerted effort to try to rebuild will be inspired by what just took place,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Tuesday.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), speaking on the floor Tuesday afternoon, said he hoped Republicans and Democrats could reunite in the months ahead on bipartisan bills.
“I think we heal in part by surprising the people and coming out from our partisan corners and getting stuff done,” he said.
Rebecca Beitsch contributed.
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