Describing his preparation process for the impeachment trial of President Trump, Mitch McConnell told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week that “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel.” He added, “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”
The comment — made the same day the Senate majority leader met with White House counsel Pat Cipollone to coordinate a strategy for the trial — has led to the first moment of potential dissent from Senate Republicans. On Christmas Eve, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski told an Anchorage CNN affiliate that she was concerned with McConnell’s vow of fealty.
“In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed,” Murkowski said, adding that she believed there should be some daylight between the Senate GOP and the White House on trial preparation. “To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.”
Murkowski also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approach to the impeachment articles as a rush job: “[She] was very clear, very direct that her goal was to get this done before Christmas.” The Alaska senator is now part of a small bipartisan group that has expressed their commitment to their roles as impartial jurors during the Senate trial to convict or acquit the president; Alabama Democrat Doug Jones said he needs a “full and complete picture” before making his decision, while Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson said that he is “trying to get the American people the truth of what all happened.” On Sunday, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN that senators whose votes are a foreground conclusion are ignoring their constitutional oaths: “When it comes to saying, I made up my mind, it’s all over, for goodness’ sakes, that is not what the Constitution envisioned.” Joining this consensus, Murkowski said on Tuesday, “For me to prejudge and say there’s nothing there or, on the other hand, he should be impeached yesterday, that’s wrong, in my view, that’s wrong.” And though Murkowski is the only GOP senator to express serious public concern, Democrat Richard Blumenthal claimed on Friday that “five to 10” GOP senators have “very severe misgivings” about McConnell’s impeachment trial plan.
A word of consternation from Murkowski means a lot more than that of the average Republican, as she is one of the rare GOP senators to break party lines on major votes during the Trump administration. Last October, she was the only senate Republican to oppose the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, while in July 2017, Murkowski, Susan Collins, and John McCain tanked the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare by siding with the Democratic minority.
This post has been updated.