Senators push for new rules now that Trump impeachment battle is over
Senators are pushing for a myriad of changes to how Congress handles articles of impeachment in the wake of President Trump’s trial.
With the months-long saga wrapping on Wednesday, senators in both parties are pitching at least three different changes to both the House’s and Senate’s impeachment rules.
The proposed rules changes underscore that while the proceeding is over, the drama spinning out of the nation’s third presidential impeachment is likely to linger.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) became the latest senator to propose a change when he announced on Thursday that he will introduce a constitutional amendment to raise the threshold for passing articles of impeachment in the House from a simple majority to three-fifths.
The change would impact impeachment of any public official, not just a president.
“It should be harder – much harder – for either political party to take the process our Founders created as a last resort against a tyrannical leader and use it instead as a tool for the tyranny of a political majority. I look forward to all of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, joining me in this effort to protect the integrity of our nation and our constitution,” Scott said in a statement.
Trying to amend the Constitution is an unlikely, uphill battle given that there have only been 27 constitutional amendments since the nation’s founding. To successfully amend the Constitution, the proposed language would first need to be passed by two-thirds of both bodies in Congress or a convention of the states.
It would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures or a ratifying convention.
Two other sets of senators are pitching changes to the Senate’s rules for handling an impeachment trial.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) will introduce legislation next week that would require the Senate to hear from witnesses in future impeachment trials.
“I will be introducing legislation that would ensure the right of both sides to call relevant witnesses and introduce relevant evidence in any future impeachment trial. By voting down documents and witnesses, the Senate has failed to conduct a full and fair trial, and has set a dangerous precedent,” Merkley said.
Republicans rejected several attempts by Democrats to subpoena administration officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, and get documents related to the Ukraine aid at the outset of the trial.
Instead, Senate Republicans included in its rules resolution language that forced a mid-trial vote on whether or not to allow witnesses. The vote fell short last week with only Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) siding with Democrats to pave the way for witnesses.
If they had been successful both sides would have been allowed to request testimony from specific individuals, and the Senate would have then voted on those requests.
Democrats have blasted the impeachment trial as a “sham” and “cover up” because Republicans have blocked new witnesses testimony.
Meanwhile, 16 Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have backed a floated rules change by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that would make House-passed articles of impeachment “deemed” as received if they had not been sent to the Senate within 25 days of passage.
It would also allow a senator to try to dismiss the articles of impeachment.
The rules change was sparked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delaying sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate after they first cleared the House late last year.
Democrats say the hold up allowed them to put a spotlight on their request for new witnesses and to let a slew of new reports come out about Trump’s decision to delay Ukraine aid and his effort to get the country to help “look into” Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
But Hawley told The Hill in a recent interview that he wants to move forward with his proposed rules change so that it would be in place for any potential future trials.
“I think it’s a good idea just because I think procedurally we want to make sure that basically the disjuncture between the House and the Senate rules aren’t exploited in the future,” he said.
The Senate could approve any rules changes in three ways: They could try to go “nuclear” and enact them with a simple majority, something that would likely be difficult given the politically controversial nature of the rules change and the slim GOP majority.
They could also try to garner bipartisan support and pass the rules changes as a standing order or a normal rules change, which would require 60 and 67 votes respectively.
Hawley said he hoped his proposal could get bipartisan support after Trump’s impeachment trial, arguing that neither side has “an interest in allowing the House to pass articles, and never have a trial which is what could happen.”
Hawley’s proposal has been sent to the Senate Rules Committee. Merkley’s, because it deals with the Senate rules, is expected to be sent to the same panel.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) didn’t rule out taking up potential rules changes but indicated he believes senators will want to move on after a months-long impeachment fight.
“It’s hard to imagine that there would be [an appetite for changing the rules], and remember changing those rules would take maybe 67 votes,” Blunt told The Hill last month. “My guess is that by the time we’re done with this impeachment process, there will be almost no interest in talking about it for a while.”
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