Some supporters of impeachment proceedings against the president may well be imagining a dramatic, extended Senate trial dramatizing his thuggish and arguably criminal behavior in the brightest of spotlights just before the electorate passes judgment on his reelection bid. Even if he’s not removed from office via a conviction, they figure, the trial will be decisive in the court of public opinion.
Senate Republicans are making it clear that scenario isn’t happening, as The Hill reports:
GOP senators say that if the House passes articles of impeachment against President Trump they will quickly quash them in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broad authority to set the parameters of a trial.
While McConnell is required to act on articles of impeachment, which require 67 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to convict the president, he and his Republican colleagues have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials.
“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
This same article quotes Trent Lott, who was Senate Majority Leader during the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, recalling that he kept those proceedings brisk and relatively drama-free, in part by strictly limiting testimony.
“Some people wanted to bring Monica Lewinsky into the well of the Senate and take her statement in front of the whole Senate, and I said, ‘We’re not going to do that. As long as I’m the majority leader of the United States Senate, we’re not going to be talking about a stain on a blue dress in the well of this chamber.’ So we didn’t do it,” he said.
“Then they wanted to bring in Clinton’s appointments secretary, [Betty Currie]. I said, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ We didn’t do it,” he added.
Lott said he was under pressure from House Republicans at the time to extend the trial by allowing multiple exhibits and witnesses, but he resisted knowing he wouldn’t get enough Democrats to convict Clinton on any counts.
If that was how Senate Republicans operated with respect to their bitter enemy, the 42d president, it’s pretty clear a trial of their own 45th president would fly by very quickly.
“Why on earth would we give a platform to something that I judge as a purely political exercise?” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another member of the Judiciary Committee. “We have to perform our constitutional duty, but if people think that we’re going to try and create a theater that could give you the perception that this is a matter that rises to the level of Watergate, that’s nonsense.”
Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over any impeachment trial, but Mitch McConnell would determine the schedule and the Senate itself could by a simple majority vote (almost certainly a party-line vote) control evidence and witnesses. In the unlikely event there are four Senate Republicans (the minimum requisite number to deny their party a majority) willing to buck McConnell on any particular controversy involving impeachment, the odds are very high such dissenters will want a quick trial to limit partisan blowback.
All in all, it’s clear that if the House impeaches Trump, you can expect a Senate acquittal with as much speed as any kangaroo court could devise.