Senate Republicans are preparing to steamroll Democrats on the rules to govern the trial.
Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are heading for an epic clash on the Senate floor Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, with McConnell and his Republicans set to institute fast-paced trial rules that ignore Schumer’s demands entirely.
Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) will eventually impose his will through the 53-seat GOP majority and pass a resolution cramming as many as 48 hours of opening testimony from the House impeachment managers and the White House counsel into just four days this week. But not before Schumer (D-N.Y.) puts up a fight.
The Senate minority leader will force votes by the end of the day on a subpoena for four key administration witnesses as well as documents related to the Trump administration’s withholding of Ukraine aide. Republicans are expected to unanimously oppose his amendment to McConnell’s resolution, but Schumer made clear he will press McConnell all day long.
“McConnell’s very resolution puts many obstacles in the path of getting witnesses and documents even later,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday. “Right off the bat Republican senators will face a choice about getting the facts or joining Leader McConnell and President Trump in trying to cover them up.”
The minority leader said that the first amendment he will offer will ask for the Senate to subpoena White House documents, including records about the administration’s decision to withhold and then release military aid to Ukraine. Schumer will then proceed to offer “a series of amendments” on documents and witnesses Democrats have requested, as well as changes to the McConnell resolution.
Under Senate rules, there will be a maximum of two hours of debate per motion.
“We have no intention to be dilatory,” Schumer said. “There is no guarantee that Leader McConnell will allow these votes to take place later in the trial so now, before any resolution passes, we must do it.”
Aides working with the House managers say McConnell’s proposal to block the House’s evidence, at least initially, could hamstring the House’s ability to present its case. The White House’s team, they say, could object to “any or all” of the House’s evidence and selectively admit only a subset of documents.
Schumer and McConnell met once for about 20 minutes in December about crafting a bipartisan resolution but got nowhere. Schumer pushed for a deal on witnesses and documents before the trial started and McConnell ignored him. Instead, the GOP leader chose to put a far more partisan stamp on the beginning of the trial than the 100-0 vote that kicked off former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Republicans dismissed the Democratic grumbling.
“My response is that no matter what was in the resolution, I was confident the Democrats would be critical of it,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “That’s part of the role they decided to play here.”
After initially excluding them from his defense team, President Trump has enlisted 8 House Republicans to aid him during the Senate trial.
Trump’s lawyers offered a sweeping condemnation of the articles of impeachment against him.
Schiff alleged the NSA and CIA may be withholding documents on Ukraine due to White House pressure.
Under McConnell’s resolution, the Senate will eventually vote on whether to hold a debate on witnesses and documents after the opening arguments and a 16-hour question-and-answer period for senators. All votes on motions in the Senate trial require just a simple majority; the final vote on convicting the president and removing him from office needs 67.
Provided that Democrats’ push to call witnesses fails, Republicans are now on course to potentially clear Trump before his State of the Union address on Feb. 4. That would give Trump the quick trial and acquittal that he has long sought; it would also allow Senate Democrats that are running for president to return to the campaign trail more quickly.
Republicans long claimed they were modeling their trial rules after the Clinton trial and it mimics that proposal in some ways like the amount of time for arguments and questions from senators, but there are some key differences. McConnell’s package does not automatically include evidence from the House’s inquiry and could move significantly faster than Clinton’s, which did not impose calendar day limits on opening testimony.
Still, it appears good enough for all 53 Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who will back McConnell’s rules plan even as he reiterates his call for a vote on witnesses later.
“I have made clear to my colleagues and the public that the Senate should have the opportunity to decide on witnesses following the opening arguments, as occurred in the Clinton trial. The organizing resolution released tonight includes this step, and overall, it aligns closely with the rules package approved 100-0 during the Clinton trial,” Romney said in a statement late Monday.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said bluntly on Tuesday that the “Clinton comparison was a lie.” But Republicans were unmoved: They know they have the votes to move ahead without Schumer, at least for now.