Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has enough votes to approve the procedural rules for a Senate trial on the impeachment of President Trump if and when Speaker Nancy Pelosi forwards the articles of impeachment to the Senate, The New York Times reports. Pelosi has withheld delivery of the articles since the December 18 House vote on impeachment and has demanded the Senate first arrive at what she considers a “fair” set of rules for the Senate trial. With a twist of his political knife, McConnell announced a majority of senators have agreed the initial rules will be modeled after the President Clinton impeachment trial rules that were approved by all 100 senators in 1999.
That majority includes moderate Republicans such as Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The proposed rules would allow the trial to proceed without committing to calling any new witnesses or hearing new evidence until after the House presents its evidence for impeachment and the President’s lawyers have an opportunity to respond. McConnell announced before Christmas that he had proposed using the Clinton rules to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who rejected it.
McConnell’s announcement leaves Pelosi and Schumer attempting to argue that what was unanimously declared “fair” 20 years ago is not “fair” today. In the battle for the hearts and minds of voters—and senators—the perception of fairness in the proceedings cannot be overemphasized.
The rules of the Senate do not require it to do anything with regard to impeachment until the House of Representatives delivers the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Constitutionally, Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives can demand nothing from the Senate. The fact that McConnell and Schumer have talked prior to the delivery of the articles shows the process is being slowed up by the House, not the Senate.
Democrats have stated many times that the evidence presented to the House for Trump’s impeachment was “overwhelming.” Yet they continue to demand that new witnesses be called and additional evidence be presented at the trial in the Senate. With polls indicating that the House impeachment “evidence” is failing to impress voters, Republicans (including McConnell) view with suspicion Democrats’ call for more witnesses and documents. The solution, according to McConnell, is to begin the Senate proceedings, as was done in the case of Clinton’s impeachment and trial, and leave the question of future witnesses and evidence for the middle of the trial, once the Senate has been presented with the House’s evidence.
McConnell must wait, however, for Speaker Pelosi to deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate before a trial can begin. “Their turn is over,” McConnell said. “They’ve done enough damage. It’s the Senate’s turn now to render sober judgment.”