When the prospect of a Senate impeachment trial first came under serious discussion, its subject and object, President Trump, was strongly in favor of an immediate motion to dismiss articles of impeachment, short-circuiting any actual trial. Senate Republicans gently insisted they had a constitutional function to discharge, and would need to go through some formalities even though acquittal of Trump was certain.
Eventually in November, White House representatives and Senate Republican leaders agreed more-or-less to a compromise: a short trial (two weeks was the most common timeline discussed) with few if any witnesses that would respect the solemn trappings of an impeachment proceeding without dragging things out or risking Republican unity. But then, as the House hearings proceeded and impeachment grew nigh, Trump reportedly changed his mind and began warming to the idea of a longer Senate trial that would not only allow a full defense of his conduct in the Ukraine case but would enable his attorneys and Republican senators to drag in Joe and Hunter Biden and his House Democratic enemies and turn the whole process in the opposite direction. This idea appears to have congealed in Trump’s mind while watching the House Judiciary Committee hearings on his trip back from Europe last week, according to CNN:
On the flight home, with the TVs tuned to the hearing, the President praised the Republican questioning of the constitutional scholars who testified on Wednesday and coordinated the White House’s forceful response to one of the witnesses invoking his 13-year-old son’s name ….
“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning … “We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is.”
Now horrified Senate Republicans are having to push back on the possibility that their dignified plans for acquitting Trump will be displaced by some sort of crude and extended show trial for the MAGA folk. According to the Washington Examiner, senior Senate Republicans are having none of it:
Senate Republicans do not expect to call witnesses President Trump might want to hear from most in an impeachment trial, conceding there are not the votes to summon key figures such as Hunter Biden and the unidentified government whistleblower whose complaint sparked the process.
Senate impeachment rules require a majority vote to call witnesses, and with just two out of 53 votes to spare, there is no “appetite” among Republicans to pursue testimony from people that Democrats blocked Republicans from subpoenaing during the House investigation. Indeed, Republicans might forgo calling witnesses altogether, saying minds are made up on Trump’s guilt or innocence and that testimony at trial on the Senate floor would draw out the proceedings unnecessarily.
“Here’s what I want to avoid: this thing going on longer than it needs to,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Washington Examiner. “I want to end this.”
As you can see, GOP senators are being careful to couch their resistance to bread-and-circuses as a matter of the procedural difficulty of calling controversial witnesses rather than any lack of interest in succoring the president’s blood lust. Sadly for the president, there are always a few RINOs (such as Mitt Romney, retiring senators and 2020 targets like Susan Collins) who will spoil his fun:
“How many senators would enjoy a Trump rally? That’s probably your whip count for calling Hunter,” a Republican senator said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. Senate Democrats are not expected to provide any votes to call Biden or the others. Or they might ask so high a price, demanding that in exchange, they be allowed to call Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, that Republicans balk.
“It becomes endless motions to call people, and I’m not sure what anybody gains from all that,” said John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2-ranked Senate Republican.
But despite the decisive tone of senators quoted by the Examiner, CNN suggests the question of the scope and length of the trial involves a real tug-of-war between Trump and Mitch McConnell:
In conversations with the White House, the Kentucky Republican has made clear he hopes to end the trial as soon as he can, an effort to both get impeachment off his lap and protect his conference from potentially damaging votes should the process break out into partisan warfare. That will include a continuous whip count until McConnell feels he has the votes to acquit the President and end the show….
But the show is exactly what Trump wants. He’s made clear to advisers privately that rather than end the trial as quickly as possible, he is hoping for a dramatic event, according to two people familiar with his thinking. He wants Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff and the whistleblower to testify. He wants the witnesses to be live, not clips of taped depositions. And he’s hoping to turn it into a spectacle, which he thinks is his best chance to hurt Democrats in the election.
It’s even possible that Trump’s pressure on McConnell to go where Mitch would prefer not to go could encourage him to cut a generous deal with Chuck Schumer on consensus trial procedures that would rule out a “spectacle.” But after another week or two of House Republicans shrieking about the Bidens and Schiff and the terrible injustices being done to the president, the atmosphere for any bipartisan Senate deal to keep the trial short and sweet may well be fatally poisoned.